* and 1/2 out of ****
There are different types of bad movies. Some, like Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) or The Room (2003), are so technically inept that they come off as unintentionally funny, thus making them wildly entertaining. Another kind of bad movie is a deadlier breed - the boring film that takes a ridiculous premise far too seriously. Transcendence falls into the latter category.
Crazy-brilliant scientist Will Caster (Johnny Depp), the top researcher in artificial intelligence, is on his way to creating a sentient machine, but before he can complete this momentous project, he is shot by an anti-technology terrorist. The doctor survives the initial gun shot, but the bullet was laced with radiation. So, as he slowly dies, his wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), and best friend, Max (Paul Bettany), work quickly to import Will's thoughts and memories into the machine. After Will kicks the bucket, he is resurrected within the machine...or so it appears to be him in there.
We are then jolted to two years later and see that Artificial Will is working to purify the environment and also improve the lives of ill and handicapped people. It is soon discovered that these people are now plugged into Will and are given super-human strength. Once this part of the plot bloomed, I kept hearing Bela Lugosi from Bride of the Monster (1955) in my head saying, "I will perfect my own race of people. A race of atomic supermen which will conquer the world!" I also kept thinking of the equally stinky and similar movie The Lawnmower Man (1992).
Transcendence is all the more silly because of it's humorless and dead serious tone. Maybe a campy approach would have helped, but ace cinematographer and first time director Wally Pfister seems to think he's making deeply philosophical science fiction about the human condition and how the dependence of technology is rotting our society. It doesn't help that writer Jack Paglen's screenplay is grade D science fiction, something that would have been an instantly forgettable low-budget programmer years ago instead of the instantly forgettable big budget thriller it is now.
A good cast, which also includes Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy and Kate Mara, is wasted here. And if you decide to go see Transcendence, your time will be wasted too.