Transcendence looks very nice; it certainly doesn't look cheap. But even though Pfister and cinematographer Jess Hall lavish a great deal of visual care on the movie's key actress, the gifted Rebecca Hall, her character has little to do but moon over Johnny Depp as her sort-of dead husband, an artificial-intelligence expert whose brain has been uploaded into a computer and who, from his hologram limbo, now wants to rule the world.
You'd think Pfister's love for genuine celluloid and his dedication to craftsmanship would make him a perfect fit for this ostensibly thought-provoking material. But Transcendence, written by Jack Paglen, is just more business as usual, one of those "control technology or it will control you” sermons that nonetheless enlists the usual heap of technically advanced special effects necessary to lure audiences into theaters these days. Pfister tries to build layers of complexity into the material, but none of it takes, and the movie's phony, love-beyond-the-grave ending doesn't click, either, as we've just watched Depp's Hologram Will behave like an egotistical jerk toward Hall's Evelyn for two hours. Just die already, OK?