Transcendence Review: Johnny Depp’s Sci-Fi Film Is “Disposable”

Johnny Depp in "Transcendence"
Johnny Depp's sci-fi film Transcendence is "disposable," writes Us Weekly's film critic Mara Reinstein -- read the review Peter Mountain

In theaters Friday, April 18

2 stars (out of 4 stars)

It's just not right.

Johnny Depp has finally decided to star in a movie without his chiseled face caked in hideous makeup. It's only his fourth time going au natural in the past 10 years. (The Rum Diary, The Tourist and Public Enemies weren't exactly beloved mainstream hits, either.) But of all the pedigreed scripts that must land on the doorstep of his estate on his private Caribbean island, he chooses a disposable sci-fi dud. And as an added insult, he appears mostly from the waist-up on a computer screen, mumbling in a monotone voice that would lull a cup of coffee to sleep.

The three-time Oscar nominee plays Dr. Will Caster, a popular and brilliant researcher. We can surmise he's popular because he's on the cover of the new Wired magazine and draws autograph seekers, and he's brilliant because he wears horn-rimmed glasses. He's also on the brink of creating a highly controversial machine and would incorporate all of mankind's intelligence and behavior. He calls this process . . . transcendence.

An anti-technology extremist group, led by Kate Mara's Bree, is desperate to stop Will and his peers. One member shoots Will at close range with a bullet laced with radiation poison. He's in grave condition, but before he dies, his scientist wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) has an a-ha moment: She can keep Will's mind viable by placing a few electrodes on his head and uploading the contents of his brain onto a hard drive. A few keyboard moves later, and presto: It's alive! It's alive!

Will now lives on in the form of a supercomputer that can think independently, converse with humans and have self-awareness about his own actions. The man is a virtual god, and he knows it. Thanks to his omnipresent knowledge, Will — in spirit, if not in body — longs to use his power for world domination. Within a few years, the pair has taken over a tiny town to make it a home base for their new evolution. Despite the advanced technology, the laborious first half unfolds with all the speed of a spinning rainbow wheel.

The futuristic machines-taking-over premise is hardly novel; Her recently explored the concept with loads more warmth and off-kilter humor. This film, however, is sterile to the core, too preoccupied with its talk of "nanotechnology" and "collective consciousness" to regenerate a single emotion. Depp and Hall's nonexistent connection can't be overstated; the pair interacts as if romantic chemistry equates to a test tube and a Bunsen burner. These two have no excuses, by the way: Joaquin and Scarlett Johansson sizzled in Her and based their heat solely on her sultry operating system voice.

A dose of humanity would have helped — especially when the plot goes from over-reaching to absurd. It seems Will is not only quietly building his own army of drones in Smalltown USA, he's tapped into the water and air molecules to spread his power. And somehow, the magical molecules can instantly repair a drone that's been shot or attacked. Yet even amid all these ultra-modern problems, the drama comes to a head with a barrage of decidedly 2014-era CGI explosions.

Hopefully Depp will soon find a project worthy of his immense talents. Until then, shut this down.

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