Peter Travers has sky-high expectations on At The Movies this week: The film is Transcendence, which stars Johnny Depp, marks the directorial debut of Wally Pfister (the brilliant cinematographer behind Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy) and boasts a script that’s long been on the Hollywood blacklist. It’s the perfect recipe for a thrilling, provocative sci-fi flick about the dangers computers and technology — but as Travers reluctantly admits, Transcendence is anything but transcendent.
“What I got was maybe one of the biggest disappointments of the year,” he says. “This thing just lies there on the screen.”
In the film, Depp plays Will Caster, a scientist who’s shot early on by members of RIFT, a group of technophobes willing to use violence to curb the computer sciences. While Caster survives the shooting, the bullet contains radioactive material that will kill his character in a matter of weeks. So Will’s wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) decides to upload his brain into a computer they’ve invented, leaving him to appear on a monitor throughout the rest of the movie. From his screen, this technological marvel builds an empire, but despite his initially positive intentions, the old saying proves true once again: Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
“And the movie goes on in that way where we keep saying to ourselves, ‘This is so deeply silly, this is ridiculous,'” Travers decries. “‘Where’s it gonna go, where’s it taking me?’ Because every predictable thing that you think will happen does happen.”
Morgan Freeman even shows up as Caster’s mentor and tries to convince Evelyn to leave the town where she’s helping her computerized husband build this digital empire. He gives her a note that says “Run from this place” — which, coincidentally, is exactly what Travers thinks you should do if you find yourself watching Transcendence.