Johnny Depp (top); and from left Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy and Rebecca Hall in Transcendence


DIRECTOR: Wally Pfister

CAST: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy


RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes

RATING: 2 stars (out of 5)

Theresa Smith

POISONED by an anti-AI technology terrorist, scientist Will Caster (Depp) prepares to meet his maker, but his wife has other plans. With the help of best friend Max Waters (Bettany), the loving Evelyn Caster (Hall) downloads her husband’s consciousness into a computer.

Once he has the internet at his fingertips Will goes his own way, quickly evolving beyond control, because hey that’s what he is supposed to do.

The quite capable cast list gives you the impression that this film is going to transcend the already rote clichés around AI films. But it doesn’t.

It looks really great, especially once Max the machine starts building his futuristic town, but the ideas engendered by the presence of artificial intelligence as a real concept never get properly explored.

The best joke anyone has made about the film so far must be attributed to the Rolling Stone critic who says Johnny Depp does the millennial equivalent of phoning in his performance by skyping it in. And, basically that is the biggest problem here. Depp is capable of nuance so why, when he gets translated into his powerful computer self, is he such a boring drip?

This is the guy who turned Willy Wonka’s smile into the creepiest meme, but his quest for knowledge evolves into a quest for power – which doesn’t make much sense considering how the Will character gets painted in the beginning as someone only interested in knowledge. But then, what does Will 2.0 do with all this power? Nothing.

Not only do we never emotionally connect with Will or his singular computer self, we don’t connect with any of the characters.

The film asks questions about the morality of creating an AI system, and then never bothers to pursue them. It also beats you over the head with the message that technology needs to be controlled or it will end up controlling mankind – but then all the supposed technophobes are using their copious bits of tech to pursue their ends?

And, even worse, it does all of this at a glacial pace. Pretty images flash and twinkle but there is no sense of drama or urgency. Ever. When Evelyn figures out that Will the computer isn’t exactly seeing things her way, does she run away? No. She wanders casually down the very long corridor.

When Max gets kidnapped by the Luddites? What does he do? Stockholm Syndrome, anyone? Yawn.

Logic is in short supply despite one of the best lines coming very early on from Max when he realises he is about to die at the hands of a group calling themselves RIFT (Revolutionary Independence From Technology), who want to get rid of scientists at the forefront of developing AI. They’re all tech-savvy but, as he points out, their extreme action is “not big on logic but certainly has no shortage of irony”.

If you liked AI, you will like this.