When reviewing bad movies it helps when the trailer lays out almost every detail of the plot for me; so watch this:
Ok, where to begin? How about with the so-on-the-nose-it-IS-the-nose character name of Will Caster? Get it? Because he casts his will? Isn't that clever? Of course it isn't and neither is anything else about the dull and silly Transcendence, whose script was on the 2012 Black List of best unproduced screenplays despite having a will-casting character named WILL CASTER. (Cypher Rage from After Earth on line one for you idiots who didn't change this at the first notes meeting.)
The movie starts off with a series of gaping plot holes and logical missteps that cripple the proceedings before they ever get going. The opening scene is in a world out of the lame TV show Revolution where there is no power. Paul Bettany's character is narrating and speaking of Johnny Depp's WILL CASTER and wife (Rebecca Hall) in the past tense immediately draining all tension from the story because we know they're going to die, he's going to live, and Something Really Bad has happened.
Jumping back 5 years we're treated to the setup where Neo-Luddites are killing artificial intelligence experts in a coordinated attack of explosions, stranglings and poisonings. While WILL CASTER is shot, he's merely wounded and seems to be OK until - dun-dun-DUHN - he discovers the bullet was laced with polonium and he'll be dead in a month from radiation poisoning. Fortunately, this allows Hall and Bettany the time to upload his mind into the computer as if they never saw The Lawnmower Man and raises the 2nd fatal plot hole: What if the shooter had, I dunno, SHOT HIM IN THE EFFING HEAD?!?! Movie over! Donezo! It's sure lucky for the bad guys and our intrepid trio that they thought to make sure the bullet was radioactive in case they didn't kill him instantly like all the other victims of their scheme. Ferfryingoutloud.
The rest of the movie continues along the predictable and obvious path: Jobe, er, WILL CASTER builds a massive underground facility in the desert where he perfects nano-bots which can create matter and heal the sick as if he's Cyber-Jesus and so what if he's able to control these people remotely. Lots of "he's gone too far" and blah-blah-woof-woof. It's a sub-B-movie plot with AAA casting and production values. There are some germs of a potentially profound ideas buried under the schlock but they've been handled far better in films ranging from Ghost in the Shell to The Matrix to even The Lawnmower Man which can be forgiven a little of its cheesiness by remembering that it came out in 1992 ahead of the World Wide Web and the ubiquity of tech as now take for granted.
Ace cinematographer Wally Pfister (he shot all of Christopher Nolan's features from Memento to The Dark Knight Reloaded, winning an Oscar for Inception) makes his directorial debut (and finale, if the box office flop results are counted) and shows he wasn't paying attention to how Nolan told stories as the pacing drags and the performances from Depp and Hall are phoned in and blank respectively. Morgan Freeman and Bettany fare better with the latter actually able to bring some depth because he's the lone character written with some depth as he is torn between the promise of the tech and the ethical and moral downsides.
Pfister didn't DP Transcendence but that doesn't explain why it looks both slick and cheap with characters in near-silhouette most of the time. He also appears to have never seen an actual keynote presentation as anyone who has seen an E3 press conference/TED Talk/Apple product reveal/whatever will be distracted by the artifice of that opening scene. Also, how does such a massive underground lab get built without anyone talking out of school about it? And how did he get all the money - just by playing the market or cyber-stealing it. I'm thinking more about it than the filmmakers clearly did.
Score: 3/10. Skip it.