Transcendence is centered on the fear many have of where technology is taking us and of how it’s transforming the human species. It has the trappings of a film that wishes even its most fantastical elements to be taken seriously. Brilliant scientists extoll the virtuous potential of artificial intelligence that could one day “heal the planet.” Neo-luddites rail against the blasphemy of men becoming proclaiming themselves gods by giving birth to a new form of life. Morgan Freeman performs a contemplative voice-over.
So when the story goes completely off the rails — ignoring its own unfounded leaps of logic and poorly explained gaps in its timeline — and its science morphs into magic, the movie becomes all the more laughable thanks to its pretensions.
Johnny Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, a rock star researched in the field of developing computers that can think for themselves. After a radical anti-technology faction shoots him with a poisoned bullet, his wife and fellow brilliant scientist Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) enlists their equally brilliant friend Max (Paul Bettany) to help her transfer Will’s consciousness into a machine.
Their effort is so successful that it scares Max, who suspects that Will will become too powerful when his newly non-corporeal consciousness is unleashed onto the rest of the Internet. He thinks what they’ve created is a malicious impostor of his friend — more HAL 9000 than Samantha.
But Evelyn, inspired by being virtually reunited with the man she loves, even if he’s only an image on a monitor, has faith in the new Will. Together they move to a poor desert town to build a data center from which they can launch a project about which Will says very little — otherwise he’d risk giving away the end and there wouldn’t be much point in carrying on with the film.
For some reason it takes two years for the neo-luddites, led by Bree (Kate Mara), to track down the location of Will and Evelyn’s massive construction project in the middle of nowhere. Likewise the government (represented by an FBI agent played by Cillian Murphy) and the Casters’ old mentor Joseph (Freeman) somehow remain in the dark about their whereabouts until Evelyn calls them one day to show them what they’ve been doing.
Everybody but Evelyn is frightened to learn that Will has acquired the ability to quickly heal and enhance the physical abilities of the disabled and sick people who’ve begun to flock to his installation in search of a miraculous cure. They fear that he’s building an army and are convinced that he needs to be stopped.
But how? Let’s just say it’s surprising that Will could harness the intellectual resources of the world’s electronic interconnections, learning to manipulate and reorganize the molecular matrix of matter itself, and still forget to invest in antivirus software.