‘Transcendence’ transcends absurdity

By Frank Ruggiero (frank@mountaintimes.com)

Article Published: Apr. 24 | Modified: Apr. 24
‘Transcendence’ transcends absurdity

From left, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall star in ‘Transcendence.’

Photo submitted

“Transcendence” plays like a cautionary techno-tale from the early 1990s.

With all the subtlety of Styx’s “Mr. Roboto,” this otherwise thoughtfully composed film warns viewers of our dehumanizing dependence on technology. Granted, “Roboto” bid us “domo arigato” in the early ’80s, but that’s OK, because science.

That’s the type of logic “Transcendence” employs, padding its increasingly contrived plot points with the most rudimentary examples of technobabble and pseudoscience. This is fine if your target audience still dials up to CompuServe, but for a directorial debut by Wally Pfister (“The Dark Knight”), one of cinema’s most talented cinematographers, it’s a blundering bummer.

“Transcendence” has some compelling aspects, including Pfister’s thoughtful visuals and, at its core, a fascinating concept, but poor execution and shoddy screenwriting turn what could have been thought-provoking cinema into laugh-inducing dreck.

Johnny Depp (“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”) is Dr. Will Caster, a celebrity scientist and preeminent expert on artificial intelligence. He and wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall, “Iron Man 3”) have nearly finished work on a sentient supercomputer, when the world’s most pigeon-holing terrorist group — one that targets the nation’s preeminent experts on artificial intelligence — strikes a devastating blow.

With their work nearly in ruins and Will mortally wounded, Evelyn makes a risky proposal: transfer his consciousness to the supercomputer. Using electrodes, cables and science (although you’d think they’d use Bluetooth in this instance), she’s able to do just that — but is it actually Will on the computer screen? Evelyn doesn’t seem to care either way, but with the techno-terrorists closing in, she and Cyber-Will must go on the lam, or online in Will’s case.

With the World Wide Web at his disposal, Will’s abilities grow exponentially, and soon he’s directing Evelyn to create a ginormous artificial intelligence lab beneath the ground of a desert town in the middle of nowhere. To Evelyn, everything seems peachy keen, yet Will’s few surviving colleagues, including Paul Bettany (“Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”) and a perfunctory Morgan Freeman (“Deep Impact”), would argue otherwise.

Just what is he doing out there? Why is he building an army of techno-zombies? Why is Morgan Freeman dressed like a fisherman in that one scene? “Transcendence” raises more questions than it can be bothered to answer.

Written by newcomer Jack Paglen, the story takes one ridiculous leap after another, leading to a climax that’ll have audiences laughing for all the wrong reasons. Throw in a cop-out of a plot twist, and you’ve got a piece of science fiction that transcends absurdity, ignoring the very logic its protagonist is supposed to embody.

Forget “Transcendence.” Hit “Ctrl, Alt, Delete” instead.

“Transcendence,” rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.

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