4/25/2014 10:24:00 AM Movie Review: Hall outstanding in cautionary tale Transcendence
Morgan Freeman (from left), Cillian Murphy and Rebecca Hall in Transcendence.
Johnny Depp stars in the sci-fi thriller Transcendence.
David Kanowsky Kudos Movie Critic, The Movie Man
Whenever I see a movie like Transcendence I get a little worried that it is a true story that just hasn't happened yet!
There are always computer geniuses whose goal is to make computers or robots equal to humans in physical prowess and, more disturbing, equal in intelligence. Moreover, when emotion is added, the machine gets fed up with being a servant or a slave, and rebels. Transcendence has this element as its basis.
Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is one of the world's top computer gurus who is working toward the goal of infusing intelligence into computers. He's getting close. He is aided by his loving wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), and their best friend, Max (Paul Bettany). Both of them are also computer experts. Their prototype machine, named PINN, has already been successfully programmed to absorb all the elements of a monkey's brain.
The threesome is delivering speeches at a computer convention. After the close of proceedings, several attendees approach Will and ask for his autograph. One attendee steps up and fires a pistol, first at Will and then into his own brain. The man is a member of a protest movement RIFT (Revolutionary Independence From Technology) that is trying to stop all efforts to replace humans with electronic beings. The leader of RIFT is a woman, Bree, a role in which Kate Mara uses her steely-eyed countenance to emphasize RIFT's passion for their goal.
Will seems to be recovering, but in a short time he collapses. The doctors tell Evelyn and Max that the bullet was removed, but it was infused with radioactive gas. Once that gets into Will's bloodstream, he'll have no more than several weeks to live.
He makes the decision to have his brain elements uploaded to PINN before he dies, so that his intelligence and his mental abilities will survive and function. Evelyn and Max perform the upload. When they make contact with the program it sounds like Will, thinks like Will, projects Will's image and has all the memories of Will's life. Evelyn is thrilled, but Max is skeptical. Cyber-Will is able to see events around him and even beyond. He is also able to use telekinetic powers to move and change objects everywhere. Max worries about their ability to control this virtual superpower.
RIFT steps up its violent opposition with attacks on all the advanced computer labs in the country. Max is kidnapped and Evelyn fears she is in danger. Cyber-Will guides her to an obscure location in the southwest desert and they build an installation there where Will can exercise his total control over all of human society. One of the benefits he offers is that he can cure just about any disease, even restoring sight to a blind man.
Gradually, Max is freed. He and another colleague, Joseph (Morgan Freeman), become more skeptical about the immense power embodied in Will's doppelganger. The protesters locate the site and there is a series of violent attacks and destruction. There is an issue with a deadly virus being spread around the globe that will destroy all human life. Much of this long sequence is confusing and the only thing that matters is the climax.
The main interest in Transcendence is the notion of technology outrunning our ability to keep it under control. Johnny Depp is good as Will, real and virtual. Paul Bettany does a fine job in the role of Max. Morgan Freeman is reliable in a small role. The movie belongs to Rebecca Hall who turns in an outstanding job as Evelyn. Her love for Will and his virtual presence colors her perspective at times. She is torn between her love for Will and her growing fear that Cyber-Will's power may be more of a danger than a benefit to humankind. Transcendence is a film that has suspense and some wonderment. The language is a bit cryptic (math and physics) at times, but it does not interfere with understanding the plot.