'... In one sense, Pfister and his screenwriter Jack Paglen have judged correctly: the audience don’t want anyone jamming up the works with objections, not with the prospect of a laptop-portable Johnny Depp in sight, but it's the first sign that the film is unwilling to raise any questions, or prompt any train of thought, that cannot immediately be triangulated and tabbed back to its respective plot algorithm — a besetting overneatness that marks it out as a Nolan production. Amongst big budget directors currently working he may be the one least gripped by the spirit of excess. He’s a neatnik showman — his films summoning genies that fit obediently back into their lamps. There’s a nice moment here when they first establish connect with the newly uploaded Will only to find his digitized voice rambling deliriously about “loss” and “dreams,” as if drunk on pixels and ether. “He’s still fragmented,” says Evelyn, but he soon pulls himself together to demand more power, access to Wall Street and connection to the internet, like every other megalomaniac. Most people would take this as a sure sign to pull the plug, but the power of love being what it is, Evelyn decides instead to head off into the desert, buy Will a small town, and instill an underground bunker in which he can amass a small genetically enhanced army to help him while away eternity.
Transcendence suffers from terrible timing, arriving a few months after Spike Jonze charmed audiences with his semi-futuristic love story Her, which flipped a century’s worth of technophobia on its back, to view what futurist Ray Kurzwei calls “the singularity” — the point at which humans are eclipsed by their computer counterparts — as a version of romantic bliss: Annie Hall for the iGeneration. Now, along comes Pfister, as if to say: no, no, forget that, be afraid again. He’s put together a handsome-looking film, no question; his cinematographer Jess Hall has a soft spot for slow-mo water droplets and the sun flaring through solar panels at dawn; the score, by Mycheal Danna, is a haunting mixture of Satie-like piano nocturnes and glassy choral arrangements; and the cast is classiness personified: Bettany, Hall, Mara. But what’s the point of calling in Rebecca Hall to do your power-hitting — her early shows of grief are textbook examples of sharp fluid, emotional economy— if you’re then going to ask her somehow not to smell a rat while Depp amasses enough power to light up Southern California? Meanwhile, Will’s shows of romantic ardor grow ever creepier: wine, dinner, dimmed lighting, something folky and hand-picked on the turntable, complete with a digitized recreation of the sound of Johnny Depp chewing his food. “I thought it would make you more comfortable,” says Will. When Evelyn demurs, he says accusingly, “You’ve changed.” He can talk. She’s not the one staring out of a computer screen the color of seasick green, electrodes attached to her skull, faking the sound of steak tartare stuck in her molars.
It's the old story, I’m afraid: the essential boringness of omnipotence as a plot device. Depp is believable enough in his early scenes, if a little checked-out — he gets one nice bit of topspin on a line about the techno-terrorism being light on logic, but not irony — but the moment he uploads, the life seems to go out of him and the movie. A digitized Oz, Depp stares down stiffly, bereft of any inner turmoil that might have allowed him to turn this mad scientist riff into something more interesting. Being able to coerce internet stocks is one thing, but once Will gets the ability to fly anywhere in the world via small silver molecules contained in rain— they look like iron fillings falling upwards — you feel the film’s energies dissipating in the air alongside them. That kind of morphing technology looked snazzy around the time James Cameron completed Terminator 2 back in 1992. All the warnings about the perils of technology nobody had time to raise in the first half of the movie seem to crowd out the second, whose empty desert setting seems to cry out for a few more perils, and a few less warnings.'