The Johnny Depp Archive

Transcendence (2014)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman, Kate Mara, Cole Hauser, Clifton Collins Jr

Directed by: Willy Pfister

Rating: 1 2 3

Johnny Depp as Will Caster in Transcendence

Will and Evelyn Caster (Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall) are a science super couple. Funded entirely by private donors, they have constructed a ‘self-aware neural network' (i.e. a computer than can think: read a big ol' room full of serves furiously flashing lights and speaking with the voice of your sat-nav). So when Will is assassinated by a Luddite terrorist group who fear his attempts to create an artificially intelligent god, despite the warnings of best friend and fellow brilliant scientist Max (Paul Bettany), a distraught Evelyn sees no option but to upload his consciousness before he dies and release him into the World Wide Web.

Is anyone there? Apparently so. But is the digital entity that appears in cyberspace really Will? And whether it is or it isn't, what does it plan to do?

Well, as it happens, not a lot. Capable of controlling, rebuilding or destroying the entire networked world, the Will Machine instead settles for trading a few stocks, building a huge server farm in the middle of nowhere and then raising a redneck army, bearded old veteran by leather-waistcoated deadbeat at a time, by simultaneously curing their ailments, enhancing their strength and annexing their brains. In fact, there's something almost Faustian about the limitless possibilities for power available to Will, and the narrow uses to which he puts it.

Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy set out to save the world in Transcendence

Still, the pod people are enough of a threat for the Government (in the form of lone federal agent Cillian Murphy and stalwart saviour of planet earth Morgan Freeman) to get antsy, team up with the terrorists and black out the entire world, plunging humanity into some kind of post-apocalyptic tech-free stone age. Yeah, thanks for that. (That isn't a spoiler, by the way: it's all revealed in the trailer and the first five minutes of the film.)

So, plot aside, what's left to enjoy about this techno-paranoid thriller that riffs on the same 'scientists shouldn't play god' chords that so many people have already played before, from Mary Shelley to Sarah Connor? Well, er, there's Johnny Depp and Cillian Murphy. (Although it would be nice to see the former not sleep-walking through a script for a change. Seriously Johnny, what's gone wrong?) There are some fairly exciting moments, it's it all seems ridiculously unfeasible it's hard to take any of it seriously. I'm no expert in advanced AI, but even I know computers don't catch viruses from people.

Rebecca Hall as Evelyn Caster in Transcendence

All in all, Transcendence is silly Frankensteinian nonsense, saved by a great performance from the ever-credible Rebecca Hall as Will's devoted yet conflicted wife. For at the heart of this sci-fi romp likes a really quite touching love story reminiscent of the 'Be Right Back' episode of Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror series, in which a heart-broken widow attempts to assuage the pain of losing her partner by buying a social media-fuelled replicant, only to discover that the networked clone can never replace the living, breathing person. Can we regain the ones we've loved and lost through digital means? If fiction is to be believed, we can't. Not yet.

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