The word transcendence is derived from the adjective transcendent. The dictionary defines the term as exceeding or surpassing excellence. That makes the film title Transcendence misleading. Outside of a great cast, effects and cinematography, not much in Transcendence approaches, much less surpasses, excellence.
Johnny Depp stars as scientist Will Caster, an expert in artificial intelligence. Caster is pushing research into creating computers that can think for themselves and design wonderful things that will benefit humankind. He's opposed and eventually assassinated by a movement fearing that artificial intelligence will grow beyond our ability to control and will take over the world.
As he's dying, Caster's wife and his best friend (Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany) discover a way to put his -- for lack of a better term -- soul into a computer where he slips into the worldwide web and continues to live. But is the being inhabiting the computer really him? As an energy force, Caster begins to make important changes to life that may or may not be beneficial to humans.
Executive producer Christopher Nolan gives his favorite cinematographer Wally Pfister the directing assignment. Pfister takes first-time writer Jack Paglen's script and packs it with -- as noted earlier -- excellent cinematography and exceptional effects. The film is sci-fi eye candy.
The story is another -- well -- story. It's pretty much a yawner.
Pfister and Paglen add nothing new to the technology-run-amok concept. Processing Depp's voice to a deep, dire-sounding level, the actor delivers monotone edits to Hall's Evelyn. She becomes incredibly paranoid, as do others, as he creates a human army whose consciousness he inhabits and whose bodies he controls.
Tossed into the mix is opposition from former friends and the group that wanted Caster dead in the first place. Wasted in the carnage is the paint-by-numbers supporting work of an underused Morgan Freeman, Hall, Bettany and Cillian Murphy.
Casting Depp is a smart move by Nolan. Even approaching middle age, and even when he's really boring, Depp is still a big draw for the female movie audience. Adding to the push to make the movie an automatic hit, and another brilliant move is making sure everyone knows Nolan is involved. Sci-fi lovers of both sexes know if it's Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight), it's quality.
Only in this case it is not. It's ironic that a movie about artificial intelligence presents its case with such a disappointing lack of intelligence.
Director: Wally Pfister
Stars: Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, Clifton Collins Jr.
Mr. Movie rating: 2 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, violence. It's playing at the Carmike 12, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.