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‘Transcendence’ wants to be profound but ends up convoluted

“Transcendence” is the ambitious new Johnny Depp movie about the hopes and fears surrounding artificial intelligence (A.I.)

Set in the near future, this sci-fi film pits a scientific community excited about the potential of A.I. against a radical anti-technology underground called RIFT that sees AI as an apocalyptic threat.

Depp plays the world’s leading expert on A.I. and thinks this kind of technology could help end the world’s suffering, including curing diseases and ending hunger.

RIFT sees it very differently. They think it will take away freedom, make people unable to think for themselves and use those powers for destruction.

Produced by Christopher Nolan, the man behind the ingenious “Inception,” and featuring a top-notch cast led by Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall and Kate Mara, in addition to Depp, of course, “Transcendence” would seem to have all the ingredients for a powerful and intellectually challenging film.

After all, it raises a lot of serious questions.

When machines eclipse man’s own brain-power, do we lose control or gain mastery of the world?

Does an uploaded consciousness have the same identity as that consciousness does in human form or has that transfer irretrievably altered it?

If we can cure all our ills, both physically and environmentally, but we have no say in those cures, is the trade-off worth it?

Do supercomputers aid the human mind or supplant it?

But every time the movie raises one of these provocative questions, it seems to want to short-circuit the issue by rushing in too quickly with an action sequence and/or an unneeded answer. It’s as if the film is afraid to let us ponder the ethical questions it raises.

I give it some credit for trying to represent all sides of a soon-to-be contemporary controversy but each side is too simplistically presented to be satisfying.

What happens when a film is truly thought-provoking but all those thoughts are shallow? “Transcendence” is what happens.

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