Transcendence | Film review – Johnny Depp’s bright spark of a scientist fails to light up dim-witted thriller

Transcendence - Johnny Depp as Dr Will Caster

Having spent the best part of the last decade playing addle-brained Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp has a tough job convincing us that he’s a massively smart clever clogs in scientific thriller Transcendence, the directing debut of Oscar-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister, Christopher Nolan’s DP of choice since Memento.

Shot on lustrous 35mm film rather than digital, the movie certainly looks fabulous – whether there is anything going on between the ears is another matter.

Never the less, we’re asked to believe that Depp’s character, Dr Will Caster, is a charismatic scientific genius, a brilliant boffin whose work on the cutting edge of artificial intelligence offers the promise of a sentient machine that can feel as well as think.


Not everyone is convinced this is a good thing, least of all anti-technology extremists RIFT (Revolutionary Independence From Technology), a radical bunch of latter-day Luddites who have moved on from putting smart phones in blenders to acts of terrorism.

After Will ends up in their crosshairs, he persuades his wife and scientific helpmate Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) to upload his consciousness into the super computer he has been developing, despite the misgivings of colleagues Paul Bettany and Morgan Freeman.

Sure enough, the virtual Will, sucking up ever increasing amounts of energy from a gigantic solar field at his new desert HQ, is soon displaying signs of world-threatening megalomania…

For a would-be cerebral film seeking to tackle brain-stretching issues, Transcendence is actually rather dumb. A lighter touch could have produced campy, B-movie pleasures from the material, notwithstanding Jack Paglan’s ponderous script, but Pfister’s solemn approach drains the fun from the film. And a miscast Depp, his star wattage surprisingly dimmed, fails to supply the missing spark.


Certificate 12A. Runtime 119 mins. Director Wally Pfister.


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