Dr Will Caster (Johnny Depp), a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, and his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) hope to create a machine with sentience. Extremists called R.I.F.T. (Revolutionary Independence From Technology) oppose this advancement and shoot Will with a polonium-tainted bullet.
Doctors give Dr Caster a month to live, so Evelyn suggests her beau continues his work by uploading his mind to a super-computer.
Their colleague Dr Max Waters (Paul Bettany) urges caution but Evelyn ignores his warnings, desperate to cling onto her husband.
Evelyn uploads Will and he infiltrates every hard drive on the planet. As Will's thirst for knowledge intensifies, Dr Waters joins forces with fellow academic Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman), FBI agent Donald Buchanan (Cillian Murphy) and military man Colonel Stevens (Cole Hauser) to create a virus that will corrupt Will and protect mankind from his insidious influence. Transcendence is a ham-fisted sci-fi thriller, which imagines the consequences of an artificial intelligence running amok in the digital realm.
The high-brow concept of Jack Paglen's undernourished script is at odds with the whizz-bang pyrotechnics that director Wally Pfister is asked to deliver in the muddled second act, ultimately starving the film of jeopardy. Characters are poorly developed and the line between the supposedly evil computer and valiant human rebels is blurred to the point that we couldn't care less if our entire species is wiped out.
Depp's lifeless performance suggests a robotic doppelganger was hired to take his place while Hall and Bettany are tortured and tearful, wrestling with murky questions of morality that seem beyond the film's flimsy grasp.