‘Transcendence’ Reviews: Is the Johnny Depp Thriller Trippy or Tedious?

'Transcendence' Reviews: Is the Johnny Depp Thriller Trippy or Tedious?

The story of a man who uploads his mind to a supercomputer is drawing mixed notices

“Transcendence,” the brainy new Johnny Depp thriller about the perils of modern technology, has some critics griping that the film is a few IQ points short of intelligent.

Early reviews for the picture are mixed. The film centers on a dying scientist who uploads his consciousness to a supercomputer resulting in sociological disaster. It marks the directorial debut of Wally Pfister, Christopher Nolan‘s long-time cinematographer, and co-stars Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall and Morgan Freeman. “Transcendence” opens Friday, and many critical sages have yet to add their two cents, so it's possible the consensus will shift in a more positive direction in the days ahead, but the film currently holds a lackluster 40 percent “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Also read: 'Transcendence’ Review: Johnny Depp Is a Ghost in the Machine in This Bug-Riddled Techno-Thriller

TheWrap's Alonso Duralde bemoaned a film that is undone by plot holes. It's all set-up and no follow-through, he argued.

“Like a snazzy new laptop that immediately heats up and stops working, this exploration of our reliance upon technology — and how far mankind will subsume itself to its creations — seems great when it's right out of the box,” Duralde wrote. “But by the end of two hours, you'll find yourself wishing that first-time screenwriter Jack Paglen had taken his creation to a Genius Bar for a thorough de-fragging.”

For Drew McWeeney of HitFix, Pfister's lack of experience is revealed by the film's plodding pace and staging, although the camera work is sterling, he said.

“Make no mistake… ‘Transcendence’ is a stiff, but one that is produced with enough polish that it almost successfully disguises its true nature,” McWeeney wrote. 

Also read: ‘Transcendence’ Director Wally Pfister on ‘Frustrating’ Technology and What Chris Nolan Taught Him

Depp's lackadaisical work is part of the problem, Variety's Scott Foundas contends. After uploading his mind to the mainframe, he is called on to give a largely vocal performance, but his dulcet tones can't enliven the script.

“Presented with much the same challenge as Scarlett Johansson in ‘Her’ — to play a character who, for most of the movie, exists only as a disembodied voice (and, in this case, a flickering face on a screen) — Depp fails to convey any real sense of the passion and curiosity that supposedly drive Will Caster to do what he does,” Foundas wrote.

The Associated Press’ Jake Coyle also drew parallels with Spike Jonze's “Her,” but maintained that “Transcendence” suffers in comparison to that more whimsical look at at the way we text now.

“…whereas “Her” was playful and personal about familiar futuristic concepts, “Transcendence” is clunky and lifeless. It's like the movie version of a paranoid TED talk,” Coyle wrote.

Also read: Johnny Depp Makes First Promotional Visit to China, Hawking ‘Transcendence’

IndieWire's Eric Kohn was more charitable, labeling the film “ahead of its time” in the way it raises questions about our over-reliance on cellphones and gadgets. He did acknowledge “Transcendence” had its flaws, particularly in its melodramatic elements.

“If ‘Transcendence’ is at times over the top, it's still the shrewdest mad scientist movie in recent memory,” Kohn wrote.

The film's strongest selling point is its dramatization of the fluid and emotionally charged relationship between Depp's Will Caster and his scientist wife,  Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), Screen International's Tim Grierson wrote. 

“Hall's performance could be easy to overlook, but Evelyn is no mere dutiful love interest,” Grierson wrote. “In fact, she's the film's main character, and ‘Transcendence' is best when it focuses on her shifting relationship to her husband, transitioning from passionate supporter to self-deluded enabler to independent thinker.”