ScreeningNotes’s review published on Letterboxd:
Long story short: I really liked some of this and hated none of it, but most of it was rather average. Published review here.
When I first saw a trailer for Transcendence, I thought, "That's going to be what Her could have been if it were written by someone less mature." Then, as I read about it and learned who was going to be involved, my attitude gradually shifted to the exact opposite. I thought maybe it could be the sort of big idea science fiction that was popular in the 70's but has since then largely fallen out of fashion.
So my feeling after leaving the theater was that it could have been much worse. It could have been a disaster: taking interesting and relevant ideas of artificial intelligence and the rampant progress of technology and turning it into a dumb action movie. In reality the result is somewhere in the middle. The big ideas could have been handled better, but they are there, and the fact that producers were willing to throw so much money at idea-driven sci-fi is very exciting.
Of course now that the movie has basically flopped it may not happen again for some time.
It's hard to point to one thing and say, "This is why Transcendence didn't work." The performances and character development are a bit lacking, but not enough to be a deal breaker. The scale of the events depicted is never really felt beyond the characters' immediate surroundings, but I actually kind of like that since it feels more intimate than blowing it up into a global catastrophe. The story is probably not what people were expecting since it was marketed as a Johnny Depp feature and instead revolves more around Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany, but again that's something I had no trouble moving past.
For me the problem with Transcendence is that it can't decide if it wants to be Her or Twelve Monkeys. It tries to play both the conflict between the couple in love separated by a screen on the one hand and the resistance movement trying to take out a sci-fi menace on the other.
The elements that worked for me were Rebecca Hall's character, the (admittedly minimal) work done exploring the idea of the singularity and the dystopia which would follow, and the visual work done both in camera and by the special effects crew. Is that enough to recommend it to a friend, or better yet to take another trip to the theater? Unfortunately I think the answer is a feeble and disappointed "no", because this is exactly the kind of movie I want to see more often in theaters and its failure means maybe I won't get to.