Johnny Depp returns to theaters this year, but in neither a Tim Burton film nor a Gore Verbinski historical adventure. No, the Depp project in question is Transcendence, a sci-fi thriller that began its marketing campaign towards the end of 2013 and has since been gaining momentum, thanks to the ominous mood of the footage and the powerful images conjured up by cinematographer-turned director Wally Pfister (The Dark Knight trilogy, Moneyball).

Depp starts in Pfister’s directorial feature as Dr. Will Caster, a researcher who intends to keep pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence in order to reach singularity – the point when A.I. eclipses human intelligence. The film’s teaser trailers examine why it is (and why that is not) a good idea, while a viral clip encourages more doubt and concern about Will’s plan, as expressed by anti-technology (yet, ironically, technology-dependent) organization RIFT in the movie.

A trailer meant for Japanese-speaking audiences has release online, and in keeping with the U.S. marketing, it foreshadows how Will’s “evolution” in the film – changing from regular guy to powerful super-computer – has dangerous and unforeseen consequences. (Well, unforeseen for anyone who’s never read a book, watched a movie and/or played a video game about sentient machines run amok, that is.)

On that note, check out the new U.S. poster for Transcendence:


Whereas the Japanese preview is heavy on the atmosphere and dread, the official U.S. trailer for Transcendence also gets at the human heart of Pfister’s film – how Will’s wife and fellow scientist Evelyn (Iron Man 3‘s Rebecca Hall) attempts to keep her dying husband alive, by downloading his consciousness into an experimental supercomputer of Will’s own design.

Pfister has spent the past 15 years collaborating with director Christopher Nolan, and by the look of his feature debut, Nolan’s style has certainly rubbed off some on Pfister. For example, Inception throws a whole lot of sci-fi jargon and explanations about dreams at its audience, yet the film ultimately boils down to a basic human story about a grieving husband attempting to move on with his life.

Similarly, for all the philosophical talk about what happens when human technology exceeds the boundaries of nature, it might well be that the Transcendence script (by relative newcomer Jake Paglen) is really “about” how a grieving wife’s world begins to crumble around her (figuratively and literally), because she is unable to let her husband “transcend” (i.e. die when his physical body is no longer functional), as nature intended. If so, that could make Transcendence a good companion piece to Inception, from that perspective.

Regardless, Transcendence looks and sounds like a sophisticated and enjoyable work of sci-fi entertainment – one which might set an excellent precedent for the genre this year, if all goes according to plan. Be sure and let us know what you think, in the comments section of this article.

Transcendence opens in regular and IMAX theaters in the U.S. on April 18th, 2014.