Directed by Wally Pfister
Starring Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany and Morgan Freeman
In case you missed the news or the trailers were so generic that you just don’t care, there is a new Johnny Depp movie currently in theatres. What is it? You may be asking. Well think of a generic 90s techno-thriller-horror minus the thrills and the horror. The film is called Transcendence. What is it about? It’s apparently about The Singularity as predicted by Ray Kurzwell and discussed in the brilliant 2009 documentary Transcendental Man. If you are unfamiliar with Ray Kurzwell his theory in the simplest context is that in the near future technology will be advancing so quickly that the only way we will be able to keep up will be to adapt to machines with nanoprobe technology implanted in us.
In the film version however, Johnny Depp plays a scientist who creates an AI machine, not unlike what Kurzwell is currently working on with Google to develop a computer that can mimic the human brain. It is a fascinating concept and there is a lot that can be done within a science fiction film. Unfortunately, they do nothing more than update those generic thrillers from the 90s when people were afraid of the Internet stealing their information. The new techno-fear is that we will become machines. So, in many ways Transcendence is exploiting a common societal fear. If it were less obvious and even remotely suspenseful, this might be something that could be looked over.
One thing that cannot be looked over is the boredom seeping through Johnny Depp’s performance. While, I think Johnny Depp is generally limited as an actor who can only play two characters, that are either manic or melancholic, at least he is entertaining when he is manic or good when being melancholic in the right film such as Dead Man, Donnie Brasco or What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Transcendence on the other is Johnny Depp playing melancholic in a generic thriller, as he has done many times, from The Astronauts Wife, Nick of Time or Secret Window. While these are not necessarily bad films they are middle of the road thrillers and best suited to home video.
The only worthwhile part of the film was time dedicated to Paul Bettany, who is always worth paying attention to, even though casual movie goers don’t know his name Bettany brings some life to every film he is in, whether it be A Knight’s Tale, Master and Commander or The DaVinci Code. Paul Bettany works well with whatever he has to work with. Unfortunately, Bettany is not on screen enough to save Transcendence from mediocrity and Johnny Depp is just famous enough to save the Transcendence from obscurity and to keep the film going direct to DVD or VOD.
This is not a film that I want to tell people to avoid, as its one of the few Hollywood films out this year that is not a franchise property or a brand name, unfortunately the film is so generic, that you will most likely forget it within days of seeing it. Therefore, Transcendence is a rental at best.