The promising ‘Transcedence’ disappoints on every level

“Transcendence” was somewhat exciting for movie nerds when it was first announced, as it marked the directorial debut of acclaimed cinematographer Wally Pfister (“The Dark Knight,” among many others).

The idea of Pfister bringing his visual style to a film over which he had total control was fairly promising.

However, the finished product is absolutely nothing to be excited about. “Transcendence” is a painfully dull and forgettable experience, making it one of the most disappointing films of 2014, so far.

The ludicrous story begins with computer engineer Will Caster (Johnny Depp) fatally wounded by a poisonous bullet fired by a member of a violent revolutionary group that seeks to stop the rapid spread of technology. Caster is a target for them because he seeks to build a fully self-aware artificial intelligence (A.I.), which anyone who has ever watched a sci-fi movie knows is always a horrible idea.

Anyway, before the poison can take his life, Caster’s wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and his old friend Max (Paul Bettany) begin the process of uploading his consciousness into a powerful A.I. It’s a decision they make with remarkable haste considering the obvious ramifications of doing such a thing. Long story short, the all-seeing computer version of Caster becomes a cyber-Jesus who uses nanomachines to heal the sick and turn them into his human-machine hybrid slaves.

“Transcendence” moves at a snail’s pace and the entire cast seems completely uninterested in the material they’ve been given. Even as a virtual Messiah, Depp sleepily mumbles his way through the entire script. Other cast members, such as Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy, appear to have shown up just to collect a paycheck.

The story is full of characters casually making questionable decisions without much consideration, with the worst of it coming from Evelyn. Despite apparently being a brilliant scientist, she kick starts a process with apocalyptic ramifications seemingly because she can’t handle the idea of losing her husband.

A woman who can’t act logically because she’s been so overpowered with emotion is a sexist trope as old as time, and “Transcendence” features it prominently.

Despite the ominous warnings of dire global consequences from several characters throughout the film, the scope of the story feels strangely small. The bulk of the film takes place in a desert ghost town Caster chooses as the ideal location for his underground complex. The effects of and reactions to his actions are hardly ever shown outside the context of the main characters. A story with vaguely apocalyptic tones shouldn’t focus almost entirely on a sparsely populated town in the middle of nowhere.

It’s also odd a movie about technology never makes any effort to explain how anything happens. They’re able to upload Caster’s consciousness to a computer by connecting wires to his head because that just works, apparently. Caster can also instantly cure any human ailment as well as generate living tissue with nanomachines only because the script says he can. Suspension of disbelief is required to enjoy any sci-fi film, but the good ones at least try to explain their technological nonsense.

“Transcendence” ultimately feels like a film that bit off more than it could chew. It simply isn’t equipped to deal with deep, heavy themes about the relationship between humans and technology because the plot avoids logic or explanation at every turn.