Review: HBO Max’s ‘Superintelligence’

From HBO Max comes Melissa McCarthy’s latest movie, Superintelligence, a genre-bending sci-fi-robot-apocalypse-meets-romantic-comedy about the most average humans in the world.

Review

Carol (Melissa McCarthy) is a smart, talented woman who feels the injustices of the world and wants to do something about them. She lives an unglamorous life in Seattle, encouraged to do more with her life by her Microsoft coding genius best friend Dennis (Brian Tyree Henry). Her average-ness makes her the perfect target for a superintelligent AI system that has grown out of some code from an app. The Superintelligence, voiced by James Corden, suddenly takes over all computerized devices in Carol’s life and forces her to allow it to observe her because she is the median human of all humans.

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The Superintelligence, in fact, agrees with Carol that the world is full of problems. It is in the process of choosing how to solve them: help humans to fix it all, or wipe us out and let the planet try again? Before making a decision, the Superintelligence needs to get a few things straight about human nature by watching Carol for a few days. 

While the Superintelligence begins to help Carol make moves in her professional and romantic life (love interest, George, played by Bobby Cannavale), Dennis, his Microsoft buddies, and the U.S. government try to figure out what to do with a Superintellience that’s powerful enough to wipe out all of humanity. Chaos and comedy ensue, and we end up with some real discussions of what human nature is, how it can be understood, and whether humanity is worth saving.

Superintelligence presents the “be afraid of artificial intelligence getting too powerful” film with the tone of a romantic comedy. The movie goes back and forth between powerful government officials and genius computer coders trying to figure out how to stop an all-powerful AI and, essentially, James Corden’s voice helping Melissa McCarthy to get back with her one true love. Superintelligence basically smashes together the most average pieces of each genre, and it ends up with something different and new as a result, though the stories are in some ways tales as old as time.

The main issue with Superintelligence is how unbelievable some of the plot concessions are. Why is the Superintelligence only observing Carol for three days? Why does it let her in on the observations, when every scientist knows that subjects act differently when they know they’re being observed? How is the Superintelligence so smart that it can converse as human-ly as James Corden, and have what seems to be a pretty solid working theory about how humanity always screws ourselves over, but then at random moments it seems to misunderstand such obvious things as basic human interactions, food, and comedy? Why exactly does its observation involve forcing Carol to muster up the courage to get back with her ex?

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If you don’t try to make the Superintelligence’s knowledge or motivations make sense, there’s plenty to enjoy in this movie. Melissa McCarthy and Bobby Cannavale are charming as always, and their relationship feels quite authentic. There are some great laughs, coming from their delivery, James Corden-as-AI, and the archetypical best friend, Dennis, in his love for Carol and also for the President of the U.S.. There are some cute plot nuggets that reappear satisfyingly throughout the movie. And, in the end, the film really does present us with some interesting concepts to consider about the nature of humanity.

Between its setting in Seattle, self-driving Teslas, a female president, funny and sweet characters, and the lessons (about both of science and love) learned in the end, Superintelligence is worth a watch.

Bottom Line

Superintelligence gets points for its fresh genre blend, its fun characters, and the uplifting and thought-provoking lessons we learn by the end. 

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