Transcendence, film review: Johnny Depp's sci-fi transcends bad reviews

(12A) Dir. Wally Pfister; Starring Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, 119mins

Laurence Phelan
Saturday 26 April 2014 01:07

The directorial debut of the cinematographer Wally Pfister is an ambitious, albeit flawed, attempt to dramatise what futurologists call the singularity, but what the screenplay by first-timer Jack Paglen insists on calling "transcendence": the moment when a computer network achieves greater-than-human intelligence. The problem is, the singularity, by definition, is the point in human progress beyond which we can't meaningfully speculate.

Transcendence begins at a TED-style lecture given by husband-and-wife artificial-intelligence researchers Will and Evelyn Caster (Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall). But after terrorist luddites attempt to assassinate Will, and Evelyn uploads his consciousness to the internet, the film rapidly advances into a future distinguished by extraordinary sci-fi nano-technologies and human superpowers.

Stretching the narrative so far so quickly results in a lot of plausibility gaps, and they are inadequately papered over with clunky dialogue and techno-babble ("Oh my God – he's re-writing his own code!"). In fact, it's a far more schlocky sci-fi film than its self-serious tone would suggest. But don't be put off by excessively negative reviews. It's also stylish and entertaining, and treads a fairly well-judged path between paranoia and technological utopianism.

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