RATING: 3.5 stars (out of 4)
It’s as inevitable as a Detroit Lions losing season or the next Lindsay Lohan incarceration. Artificial intelligence is out to dominate us, and will probably make us wash its car like George McFly does to Biff at the end of Back to the Future.
As with 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix and–unintentionally hilariously–The Net, Transcendence envisions this dire cyberpunk future in an effort to freak you out like a plus sign on a home pregnancy test.
It’s the debut film from director Wally Pfister (homeboy’s named like a ’70s porn director) who shot The Dark Knight trilogy. After an effort this impressive, he won’t need to shoot anyone else’s movies anymore. He proves to be as clever a storyteller as he is a painter of moving pictures, using sleight of cinematic hand to make a computerized Johnny Depp as haunting a figure as Pennywise from It.
Depp plays Will, a cyberengineer obsessed with accomplishing transcendence–which he defines as making artificial intelligence self-aware and accountable only to itself. His wife/mad scientist assistant, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), is so into cybersex that she helps him upload his consciousness to a giant room of servers. Others, including Feds played by Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy, as well as a colleague (Paul Bettany) aren’t so cool with this idea, but so strong is Evelyn’s love for Will that she forges ahead with the dubious plan, but only after she makes Will swear he won’t bang Siri behind her back.
You can guess the usual hijinx and madcap antics that occur when a digitized megalomaniacal brain frolics about the internet. CyberWill learns everything about everything, swipes all the money he wants, builds himself a solar-powered bunker compound, and starts building up an army of hillbilly slaves.
Evelyn looks on at all this with a cockeyed, suspicious glance, but is willing to play along as long as his browser history is clear of naughty sites. Seduced by CyberWill’s infinite power and ambition, she helps conceal his plans for universal domination as helpless investigators slip her paper notes telling her that online dating sucks and she needs to bail out and find a real man.
The story surges forward at a blistering pace, with Pfister’s dazzling visual effects sparking wonder after wonder. Despite his evil, CyberWill isn’t a total dick, and manages to create algorithms that clear the air of pollution, heal wounds in seconds, and grow plants at swifter rates than a Miss Coed can fill out an inseam. The computer concoction, voiced by such righteous fervor by Depp, is so convicted and charismatic that it’s half-believable when he develops a following of slaves doubling as human batteries.
Freeman is good for his usual homespun andemotionally-grounding soliloquies, while a frenzied Hall proves to be leading lady material in the way she first showed when locking lips with Scarlett Johansson in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Trascendence is so good that once it starts to wind down, you become a little annoyed that there isn’t more to it–despite the fact that nearly two hours have passed. Leaving you wanting more is rarely a bad thing, and the thriller accomplishes that with aplomb. As infectious as Heartbleed, this is a movie to treasure, talk about, watch again and be thankful that CyberWill isn’t around to steal Siri’s sweet affection out of your clutches.
Starring Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman and Kate Mara. Written by Jack Paglen. Directed by Wally Pfister. PG-13. 119 minutes.