Johnny Depp stars as a scientist who goes mad after his mind is merged with an artificial intelligence machine.

Johnny Depp stars as a scientist who goes mad after his mind is merged with an artificial intelligence machine.

Johnny Depp remains one of the most puzzling and intriguing actors on the scene today. His latest film, “Transcendence,” won’t do a thing to change that perception. He delves into the science fiction mystery thriller with typical Depp intensity–profound, curious and 100 percent engaging.

Although the film has been widely panned in early reviews, (add us to the list) if you’re a Depp fan, you hang on the actor’s every word and nuance.

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The movie marks the feature film directorial debut of Oscar-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister (“Inception,” “Dark Knight”), who works with a stellar cast that includes Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cilliam Murphy, Cole Hauser and Morgan Freeman.

Depp essays Will Caster, a scientist on the cutting-edge of developing a viable artificial intelligence (AI).

When Will is assassinated by a rival anti-technology group called RIFT (led by a riveting Kate Mara), his mind is essentially uploaded to the AI computer, called Transcendence.

RIFT’s attempt to destroy Will inadvertently becomes the catalyst for him to succeed in his plan. But Will’s quest for knowledge becomes a drive for power. Even his wife and best friend begin to question whether he’s succumbed to megalomania.

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The underlying message of the movie is that people are essentially afraid of what they don’t understand.

While the narrative is definitely engaging, the film unwinds at a somewhat confusing and sluggish pace. The ending reminded me of Brad Pitt’s “World War Z,” not a bang, but a whimper.

Even the great Morgan Freeman is saddled with a thankless part.

The cinematography is terrific and some of the special effects are truly dazzling. But the story is muddled throughout. Regrettably, there are moments when virtually (no pun intended!) nothing is going on.

On an individual level, Hall is spectacular in almost in every scene; Depp is totally captivating.

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Interestingly enough, the movie leaves the door open for a proper sequel. Considering Depp’s track record, we might just see one, if the film doesn’t bomb this weekend when it hits theaters.

His last picture “The Lone Ranger,” was also positioned for a sequel. But Disney took such a bath on it, another film is out of the question. Given early reviews, “Transcendence” may be facing the same fate.

One of the amazing things about Depp’s career, however, is his ability to take chances and live to tell about it. His so-called art films, “Ninth Gate,” “The Astronaut’s Wife,” “Donnie Brasco,” “Blow” and “The Libertine” were never really big commercial successes.

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His “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, on the other hand, made billions of dollars and continues to offer him an avenue to do more personal movies. But it also set an incredibly high standard by which all his other films are judged.

Out of all the negative reviews, the biggest rap against “Transcendence,” seems to be that it’s not good enough.

For my part, I can’t take my eyes off Depp on-screen no matter what the vehicle.

You’ve got to hand it to the actor for continually pushing the envelope, even if not all of his films are successful. His work is always interesting, good film or bad.

And, if you’re a Depp fan, you’ll feel the same way about “Transcendence.”