The Movie Review: “Transcendence”

The early quarter of the 2000’s has brought us into a new era where computer technology has advanced beyond the box systems at our desk. We now carry them in our pockets, with quick access to weather, social media accounts, and even our work.

If a child is bored while waiting at a restaurant, we can give them our phones to let them watch cartoons. If we find ourselves with nothing to do, we’ll play a game. Given that teenagers love to text more than talk and how much we watch on our computers, have we become way too reliant on technology to live? After all, we have only lived with this stuff for a couple of decades while mankind has survived thousands of years without it.

When you think about it, people are tagged with their phones and computers because we want to be the quickest to understand. More specifically, to understand how the world works and how each of us can be the first to know. But at different ages comes different priorities.

Kids want to watch and play while adults want to connect and learn. The answer to our reliance on machines depends on how you use it. Most kids are smart enough to know that we still need to listen to people to understand everything. It’s the adults that I think are more prone to possibly going too far, but I have yet to see it happen.

Transcendence tries to tell a cautionary tale about over-reliance on machines.

Dr. Will Caster (played by Johnny Depp) is an artificial intelligence researcher whose goal is to continue expanding the possibilities of a machine that can reach human intelligence and continue to learn. His wife Evelyn (played by Rebecca Hall) wants to go bigger with hopes that computers can heal the planet.

But after a presentation, Will is shot by a man who comes from an anti-technology terrorist group called R.I.F.T. who opposes artificial intelligence. The radiation from the bullet is slowly killing Will, so Evelyn proposes an idea that since brainwaves are electrical currents and circuits, Will’s consciousness can be uploaded into a computer.

The experiment is successful as Will starts to communicate in digital form now that his mind is more open and asks to be connected to the internet to access other systems, including Wall Street.

This allows Evelyn to become an instant millionaire where she builds an AI company in a small desert town where Will continues to grow in intelligence. This leads to Will not only having control over every operating system of the planet, but the planet as well.

What we have here is a movie that thinks it’s original and intelligent, yet it is neither. Transcendence feels like a movie from the 90s when computer technology was new and more unpredictable. Just like Lawnmower Man, the scientists here never really consider the consequence of a digitized human before they upload them into a computer. As soon as Will asks to be put online, my first thought was, “Did nobody consider this as a bad omen?”

This is also a movie where your own questions are more entertaining than the story. Why would R.I.F.T. oppose all computer technology when they themselves use it to attack labs all over? Why would the FBI send two agents to stop a worldwide threat? If Evelyn is really a successful scientist, then how could she not see that letting a human onto every computer would be a bad idea?

Transcendence has so many holes that I’m surprised that nobody, including executive producer Christopher Nolan, thought to consider that an audience can’t get behind a mad scientist experiment where nothing justifies their actions. At least with something like Frankenstein, the scientist was trying to create life on earth.

I’ll give this one and a half system failure screens out of five. Transcendence fails to be entertaining, thought provoking or even smart. I could watch Al Gore give an insurance presentation for a week straight and still get more out of it than I would from this movie.

Robert T. Nickerson is a film critic. His work can be seen at

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