In ‘Transcendence,’ the Singularity Is Here

Johnny Depp plays a computer hell-bent on destroying the world

Johnny Depp in Transcendence.
Johnny Depp in Transcendence.

What fresh hell is this? Mankind has finally collided with technology. Water and food have joined all natural resources in a furnace of ashes. Computers have destroyed the planet. And all because of Johnny Depp. In a demented exercise in nihilistic horror called Transcendence, the future is dead. This is as predicted, but I didn’t expect the end to come in a movie of complete and total incomprehensibility.

Transcendence ★
(1/4 stars)

Written by: Jack Paglen
Directed by:
Wally Pfister
Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall and Morgan Freeman
Running time: 119 min.

Looking at the credits, it all becomes obvious. This geek parade is not directed by Christopher Nolan, but he produced it, from the same bucket of alternate-reality baloney as Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. This time he turns over the reins of confusion to his Inception cameraman, Wally Pfister, with a screenplay by Jack Paglen, who word processed the submental Battlestar Galactica. The result is a pointless nightmare of pretentious science fiction twaddle with no plot, no coherence and no heart. You couldn’t find a narrative thread with a microscope, but the gist of it, as far as I can make out, is this: Johnny Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, the world’s leading research scientist in the field of artificial intelligence. Already, we’re in trouble. With his wife and fellow scientist Evelyn (Rebecca Hall, an overwrought actress with an annoying habit of staring intensely, in this case probably from disbelief), he has invented an all-powerful machine called PINN, a man-made god with a brain that can someday rule the universe. Will has his fans, including Evelyn and their best friend Max (Paul Bettany), but he is also the target of a gang of anti-technology terrorists called RIFT, run by a perky blonde named Bree (Kate Mara). 

When the extremists attack the lab, Will is killed by a bullet carrying radiation poisoning, but before he dies, he uploads his consciousness into the master computer. Evelyn purchases an abandoned town in the desert and everything in it, erecting a gigantic data center commanded by Johnny Depp’s face on a computer screen. It’s the cushiest job in one of the worst movies ever made because the star gets to stay home and blow up the world in his easy chair, phoning in the dialogue. First, he’s a hero, re-creating everything that ever existed, from human cells to the water supply. But in no time he turns into a massive bloviator, so hell-bent on destroying the world that even his wife turns on him. But how do you stop a villain with the turbulent force of a 737?

Under the circumstances, the titanically terrible acting inspires sympathy. How do you survive an exchange like “The balance of oxytocins and serotonins in your system are huge” and “Are you measuring my hormones”? None of this brain-twisting drivel about changing and controlling regeneration or evolution and pretentious, empty-headed filmmaking adds up to a single iota of cogent or convincing logic. No wonder the terrorists are the heroes. “I’m going to transcend them,” says Mr. Depp without a trace of conviction, as though he was ordering Chinese takeout, while the power grid collapses and the world is plunged into an international blackout. But who can transcend a movie as idiotic as Transcendence

In ‘Transcendence,’ the Singularity Is Here