I’ve had my heart set on watching this Johnny Depp starrer since I saw the trailer despite reading of not so favorable reviews from critics. I must say that after seeing this techno thriller backed by the powerhouse cast of Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall and Cillian Murphy, I was more confused than convinced at the direction of this film.
Dr. Will Castor (Johnny Depp) is a brilliant researcher at the brink of making a breakthrough in developing artificial intelligence technology that possesses sentient and collective intelligence. With this “transcendence”, Will and his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) believes that technology can be used to help solve the world’s problems with pollution, nanotechnology, food production, among others. However, anti AI extremists who are afraid of Will’s technology stage an attack on Will and his company, and uses radioactive poison against him, leaving him with only little over a month to survive. In order to save Will, or part of Will, his best friend Max (Paul Bettany) helps his wife migrate Will’s consciousness to the powerful AI technology he developed and pretty soon after his actual death, he helps his wife go underground to begin building his city of dreams where technology is king with Will in full control of everything.
From the trailer, it seemed that the film was pretty much cut and dried. Man tries to transcend the boundaries of technology and becomes mad with power once he is able to achieve it, but the movie itself seemed unclear on its message. At first, it seemed to tackle the moral issues behind artificial intelligence and wrestled with this dilemma for the better part of 30 minutes. But then it shifts its focus on the motives behind Will’s actions, seeming to want to fake out audiences into believing Will’s nefarious end goals, with the love of his life even questioning what has become of her husband.
The problem with the movie is that Johnny Depp’s effectiveness as a tortured hero negates the premise that he is a powerful machine set out to conquer the world. Despite being an transient AI being, his humanity and vulnerability shines through his every interaction with his wife and his inability to touch her and “be with her” was obviously the main gist of his frustration.
Another thing that seems really stupid in this film is the AI extremists’ narrow-mindedness brought on by fear of technology that they are blinded by whatever good it brings to humanity. Paul Bettany’s character Max seemed to be the only one smart enough to understand the fine line between the proper use of technology but he too, became clouded by the faulty judgement of those who feared what they did not understand so it was a shame.
But the biggest shame was in casting an actor like Morgan Freeman and sidelining him for the better part of the movie.I would have thought that Freeman would have been given a bigger part in the plot but nothing much happened to his character until the end.
In terms of presentation, there was good CGI employed in this movie, but there was just too much dialogue about the same issues, over and over again. It seemed like an endless question of right and wrong, perception and reality, and the lack of a compelling musical score did not help make the movie more interesting.
All in all, at the end of the movie, audiences will feel tired rather than awed, from thinking too much about who the real villain of the piece really was. In most cases, accomplishing this is actually a good thing for a movie but not when the entertainment factor is completely neglected by the filmmakers. At the end of the day, the actors turned up excellent performances but they could have done more had they been given proper direction. It is because of them that the movie was not completely horrible. As for the rest, I completely blame director Wally Pfister.