We are obsessed with technology. This much is true. Between our cell phones and tablets and home computers and whatever else we have in our home that whirs, beeps, or produces faint electromagnetic waves, it sometimes feels like we have a more intimate relationship with our things than the people in our lives. And this has long been the realm of speculative science fiction, which wonders what would happen if that love affair with technology turned really, really dark.
The latest example of this is Warner Bros' new sci-fi epic "Transcendence," which is about the nature of humanity and all of the cumbersome fleshiness that goes with it, and concerns a mad scientist (Johnny Depp) who, after getting poisoned by a radioactive bullet (don't ask) has his consciousness uploaded to a computer which results, of course, in some unintended consequences.
"Transcendence" aims to be a genre-defining, soul-searching movie like "Blade Runner" or "Her." But does it succeed? Or should you just wait and save your money for an actual summer movie?
1. It Takes Itself Very Seriously
The plot of "Transcendence" is patently ludicrous -- radioactive bullets, uploading your mind to a computer -- but it's played with a painfully straight face. If the filmmakers had actually engaged with how silly the premise was, then it could have actually been, what's the word, fun? Instead, it unfolds with the morose seriousness of your favorite uncle's funeral. It's a tonal miscalculation that ends up being absolutely crippling. This is not "The Godfather." It's about tiny robots and has a line of dialogue where a man living inside a computer and dependent on the Internet for his survival says, without irony, "We need to get off the grid." What does he think the grid is, exactly?
2. Rebecca Hall's Hair Is Great
Rebecca Hall, a painfully underrated actress that has appeared in everything from "Vicki Christina Barcelona" to "Iron Man 3," costars as Depp's deeply devoted scientist wife, who hatches the scheme to upload his mind to the computer. And she is absolutely adorable. Her performance is kind of wonky, but we blame the script more than anything else. One thing she can totally own, though, is how fabulous her hair looks. It's a little bob, just above her shoulders, with an asymmetrical cut, and it's messy and sexy and suggests that she is a scientist who doesn't have a whole lot of time to fuss with her appearance, but looks good anyway.
3. Kate Mara Needs to Go Back to Slugline
Sadly, the equally likable Kate Mara doesn't fare as well. The actress, who put in dynamite work for the Netflix series "House of Cards," is saddled with an awful, crinkly wig, and some of the more leaden dialogue in a movie largely defined by leaden dialogue. As a Luddite terrorist waging a war against Depp's artificial intelligence research, she comes off not as impassioned but idle and bored. And when the movie gives her some dramatic stuff to do in the third act, it doesn't come across as all that believable, partially because it seems like, in the 11th hour, the filmmakers decided to cut a romantic subplot between her and another researcher (Paul Bettany), who begins to have second thoughts about the omniscient Depp bot.
4. The Movie Makes Very Little Sense
OK, we've bought into a movie where Johnny Depp is uploaded to a computer. So why is it so hard to buy the fact that Rebecca Hall swoops into a desolate, economically devastated New Mexico town, starts buying up real estate, and is able to develop, beneath the surface of the Earth, a vast, next-generation research lab with zero oversight from local or state government? Just because the town is poor doesn't mean that there aren't politicians, somewhere, who would get wind of this and try to stop it, or at least govern it. About halfway through the movie, any reason for anything that happens just kind of goes away. Either you're with it or you aren't. I wasn't.
5. Johnny Depp Might Have Been Asleep
Here's an idea: You take one of the most oversized actors in the world, who devotes himself completely to off-the-wall creations like Captain Jack Sparrow and Tonto, and you get him to play a guy who is uploaded to the Internet. So the entire technological world, and all the information and commerce therein, are his plaything. And yet you have him play the character completely straight? WHAT IS THAT? If Depp had allowed his inner Depp-ness to come through, a gonzo touch here, a wonky adlib there, then not only would he have been more interesting to watch, but it would have made the performance more human.
6. It May Cause You to Rethink Your Devotion to Christopher Nolan
This movie is very much from the Christopher Nolan camp. His longtime cinematographer, Wally Pfister, directed the movie, and the film is populated with Nolan regulars Morgan Freeman, Hall (who costarred in Nolan's "The Prestige"), and Cillian Murphy (Michael Caine must have been busy). But, more than anything, you will feel his bummer presence on every frame. "No, this should be more dour and serious," you can feel Nolan directing from just off-screen. It had me rethinking my love of his movies. Lighten up, dude. You make movies about magicians and dream thieves and superheroes.
7. It's Oddly Sexless
Another annoying tenant of the Chuck of Christopher Nolan is that the movie is oddly sexless. This is about a man who uploads himself to the computer, is constantly in his wife's presence, and who has access to robotic arms and other weird apparatuses. And yet there's no indication that he's all that interested in trying to sleep with her. (Reminder: she looks like Rebecca Hall.) It doesn't just seem like a weird avenue to leave uninvestigated, it also seems like a shortcoming in the narrative and filmmaking. This is a fairly important aspect of human existence that is just glossed over.
8. The Supporting Cast Is Totally Wasted
Yes, the supporting cast includes Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy and also features Cole Hauser and Clifton Collins, Jr. And does Pfister, Nolan, or any of the other creatives involved with the movie give them anything even remotely interesting to do? The answer, of course, is no. Clearly Nolan asked them and they said yes. This is the biggest collection of favor repayments since the similarly snooze-worthy "The Monuments Men."
9. The Framing Device Robs the Movie of Any Tension
The first five seconds of the movie lets you know that, after the events of the movie, the world has gone without electricity or power. Not only does this instantly remind you of the NBC series "Revolution," but it zaps any tension from the rest of the movie. If we already know where the movie ends up, why do we care?
10. Pray for 'Prometheus 2'
Jack Paglen, the screenwriter of "Transcendence," wrote the first draft of Ridley Scott's 2016 sci-fi sequel "Prometheus 2." "Prometheus" might not have been a perfect movie, but it was a beautiful, deeply felt, outrageously weird one. And it had a spirited sense of zip and pep. All of these things are missing from "Transcendence." It is somewhat heartening to know that his script is already being reworked.
"Transcendence" uploads to theaters Friday, April 18.