Movie Review: Transcendence

**SPOILER ALERT: I pretty much tell you everything that happened in the movie, so you might want to click away now if you’re not into that kind of thing.**

So I watched Transcendence over the weekend, that movie where Johnny Depp plays a genius dude with the oh-so-clever name of Will Caster (GET IT, AUDIENCE? He CASTS his WILL!) who builds a supercomputer capable of self-awareness because his researching wife wants to heal the planet, and Greenpeace hasn’t gotten stuff like that done for a few decades (though I hear the whales have made a comeback, so good on you, Greenpeace!). During a presentation announcing the creation of PINN the AI, we discover that the filmmaker’s naming budget was all used up on Johnny’s character.
Also: there’s a “terrorist” group who is totally, one hundred percent against making computers that think for themselves…and we know this because, simultaneous to the presentation, A BUNCH OF LABS WORKING ON AI STUFF BLOW UP AT THE SAME TIME. One of them is run by Morgan Freeman. MORGAN FREEMAN, folks.
Also also: Johnny gets shot with a radioactive bullet by Lukas Haas, who gets just enough screen time in this for anyone watching to say, “I think I remember him, but the eighties were so long ago…”  Luckily—LUCKILY—the bullet just grazed Johnny, so he’s not going to die…quickly. But he is absolutely going to die, and within the rest of the first twenty minutes. Otherwise, this concept will never get off the ground. The radioactivity has given him a little time to figure out that, if his wife is kneeling in the garden doting over a bunch of dying sunflowers like the Schwann’s guy ran over her puppy, she’s really gonna lose her shit when he’s gone. So he discusses this with his Friend in Science Stuff Paul Bettany, who has some special theories of his own about AI, and in spite of that gets treated like total dung by everyone in this thing.
That comes later.
While rifling through Johnny’s packed-up experiment paperwork, which fills approximately not-quite-one banker box, his wife gets a brilliant idea: Since Paul Bettany has experimented with uploading the consciousness of a monkey into a computer—yeah, he really did—she suggests that he could do the same for Johnny Depp—yeah, she really does. And since they can’t run PINN without Johnny’s expertise and they’re shutting that beast down the show anyway, who’s going to miss a few cores out of the gigantic self-aware computer? Why not set up camp in some skeezy loft somewhere and put Johnny Depp INTO THE COMPUTER?
And yeah, they really do.
Johnny’s health declines slowly, which gives them enough time to feed him pills and applesauce and shave his head so they can attach a bunch of electrodes to his scalp. They even shave his eyebrows, but they don’t put electrodes on those…this is probably the first solid indication that this movie will be falling to hell very soon. So Johnny Will Caster goes all PINNhead, though it’s only electrodes and his eyes don’t go all black, which isn’t nearly as effective. It plays more like Edward Scissorhead, minus the charm. They scan his body and make him recite his vocabulary, which seems like a cheap excuse to include a tear-jerking scene of him reciting L-words (“law…lace…” No really. He does that.) This is the kind of stuff that wins people Oscars when they play immigrants overcoming obstacles to achieve their dreams, but this time it just comes across as silly. Too bad he didn’t use an accent of indeterminate European origin.
Johnny dies mid-upload, which reminded me a lot of watching movies on Amazon On Demand. Unfortunately, I was watching this on a DVD with no scratches or fingerprints to speak of, so it just kept rolling. Now he’s in the computer…or is he? Paul Bettany and Johnny’s Wife (who I recognized from Lost but couldn’t tell you her name for the life of me) stare longingly into a bank of monitors flashing Matrix-y images that may or may not be Johnny. “But look – there’s a picture of the park we went to on our first date!” she cries out. Paul Bettany tells her that it’s probably just someone on Tinder trying to get her attention. So they decide TEN MINUTES AFTER JOHNNY DEPP HAS DIED to shut off the computer. THE COMPUTER THEY JUST DOWNLOADED JOHNNY DEPP INTO. Seemed like a waste of eyebrow-shaving and L-word reciting to me, but I guess the Scientists know best.
But wait! Is that a DOS prompt asking “Is anyone there?”
Why no. No it’s not.
From there, it just gets silly.
Johnny is now capable of accessing the internet from the inside, a dream I know we’ve all had at one time or another. He can tap into everyone’s money and everyone’s porn and everyone’s IM history with all the secrets of the world and all the OMGs you could ever hope for. JACKPOT! So what does he use it all for? To have his wife take him into the mountains and set up an even superer super-solar powered data center.
Yeah. That’s probably what I would have done…
Meanwhile, Paul Bettany is abducted by the “terrorist” group, led by that girl from season one of American Horror Story who was murdered and buried under a gazebo for having the nerve to get pregnant by the dude who owned the haunted house. This time, she means BUSINESS: they need to shut down the AI Johnny Depp before Bad Things happen. But Paul Bettany isn’t giving up the goods so easily…until Terrorista tells him that his theories on the How Wrong it Can Go-ness of AI were what inspired her to become a terrorist. Suddenly he’s torn. And a hostage. See? Treated like dung.
Flash-forward two years.
Mr. and Mrs. Johnny Depp Computer have set up the sweetest underground super-computer powered by a million-million solar panels. Apple would crap in their Cupertino if they could have a bomb set-up like this. The walls are white and shiny! The computer stuff is held in glass! MRS. JOHNNY DEPP LIVES IN A LITTLE HOUSE INSIDE MADE ENTIRELY OF WINDOWS! I kept wondering how she didn’t bump into stuff all the time, because you could see those things had been Windexed to high-heaven. She was good, though. Not a single pigeon-into-the-glass moment for her.
Turns out Johnny wasn’t intent on just existing in the computer; he’s figured out how to use nano-technology to heal everyone in the stereo-typically spooky trailer town where the computer lab was built. It turns them into highly-evolved computer-humans (Compumans, I’m thinking they should be called) And now, he wants to use it to replicate creation. Which he does. BY MAKING A 3-D PRINTER THAT CAN REGENERATE HIM! What a twist! Meanwhile, his sciencing has led to the quanumification of his cells, which means they can travel through the air and through the dirt and through water. In an actual cloud.
Talk about a metaphor-less metaphor.
Turns out for the townsfolk, once you have Johnny Depp’s Healing Cells in you, YOU’RE PART OF THE JOHNNY DEPP MAINFRAME. He can speak his voice through your mouth, and see through your eyes. These filmmakers passed up probably the only opportunity they’ll ever have for Jack Sparrow flash mob. But I’m sure they knew what they were doing… The only way to get rid of this virality, as postulated by the FBI, Morgan Freeman and Paul Bettany? Upload a virus into Johnny that would shut down THE ENTIRE INTERNET. I’m not even kidding.
It makes my blood run cold just typing it again.
So that’s exactly what they do, after a sort-of battle between the Compumans and the anti-AI terrorists. And Paul Bettany.
Are you ready for the best part of the whole movie?
When the Compumans chase the anti-AI terrorists, THEY MAKE THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN BIONIC LEGS RUNNING NOISE!
It comes at the point where there’s about ten minutes left in the movie, just before some silly resolution about the internet really shutting down the whole wide world, and everyone using laptops as doorstops and begging for food, and Mr. and Mrs. Johnny Depp showering down their computerized love on those stupid sunflowers that died in their garden at the beginning of the movie so they can bring them back to life. Paul Bettany sees this miracle and realizes that Johnny wasn’t trying to take over the world or kill people by becoming a super-computer. He was doing this so he really could heal the planet. FOR HIS WIFE. Who feels stupid now, Paul Bettany?
Probably you.
And me, for watching the whole thing, instead of falling asleep halfway through as per the usual. But honestly, I stopped paying attention after the Compuman attack, because I finally saw the real message they were trying to get across.
In the future, we’ll all be bionic.
That part was totally worth staying awake for.

 Want to watch it anyway? Click here.

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