Tron: Legacy

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 12/30/10 15:28:13

"Why spend all this money and then skimp on the script and star?"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

"Tron: Legacy" would dearly like to be the "Star Wars" prequels. That's not the nasty insult from me that it might be from others - I liked the new "Star Wars" movies. It's trying to do the same thing - return to a world last seen a generation ago, pretty it up with new effects, and throw some philosophy in there (and, yes, sell a bunch of merchandise and keep the property going in other media long after it leaves theaters). It just doesn't do so nearly as well.

Twenty years ago, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) disappeared, leaving a young son and his company Encom behind. Now, Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) is the majority shareholder of Encom, but is more likely to pirate its new operating system release before its launch than actually attend board meetings. The day after one such escapade, Kevin's old friend Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) mentions he's received a page from the old arcade, and when Sam goes to investigate, he's zapped into "The Grid" just as his father was back in 1982. Now, though, it's a dystopia which CLU, a program modeled on Flynn and designed to create a perfect world (played by a digitally de-aged Bridges), rules with an iron fist, and now he'd like to get out and impose order on our world. Fortunately, a "program" by the name of Quorra (Olivia Wilde) rescues Sam and reunites him with his father, and they must race CLU to the exit portal.

Tron Legacy aims to be a chapter in a sci-fi epic, and is perfectly watchable as the first chapter (it has to be - Disney has made the original Tron hard to find, fearing its dated effects and other weaknesses would hurt this movie's box office); it contains enough information to get the audience up to speed. Just enough, perhaps; there are some scenes where this viewer who hasn't seen the original in something like twenty years didn't know whether the movie was recapping or introducing new information, especially when not a lot was done with it in this movie - are these scenes something longtime fans expected to see, or set-up for sequels? Even with that attempt to build complexity, it's a rather thin world, glossy on the surface but lacking detail and heft.

Part of the reason for this is how lightweight the characters are both hero and villain are rather generic. For CLU, that may be deliberate; though all non-"user" characters in The Grid are described as "programs", but he's the one that most feels like it - he was created to devise a perfect society, but his design doesn't allow for much flexibility in the implementation. Mecha-Bridges feels even more plastic than he should; though Flynn tells us that CLU is his twisted reflection, we don't really feel it. Garrett Hedlund doesn't have the excuse of being a special effect to fall back on; he's just an actor unable to breathe life into a character. We're told enough to get an idea of what makes Sam tick, but seldom feel it. Despite being the main human character in the movie, Sam feels like one's avatar in a video game, maneuvering around the environment to reach the goal and occasionally taking part in a plot-advancing scene, but with no personality of his own.

It doesn't help that Hedlund is constantly thrust into scenes opposite more capable actors. Jeff Bridges could probably call forth Flynn's techno-hippie personality in his sleep, and at times he seems to come close to doing so, but he at least does seem to carry a certain weight of experience with him. Olivia Wilde is called on to be spunky as Quorra, and she's good at that, especially in her first few scenes, before the writers forget to keep making her fun while they move plot and action forward. Bruce Boxleitner has just a few scenes, but they probably contain about half the film's human emotion. Heck, even Michael Sheen and Beau Garrett steal their scenes, and their jobs are, respectively, "be annoying" and "look good in tight leather".

A lot of this can be compensated for if the movie works on a straight appeal-to-the-senses level, but it's not quite up to that. Sure, it looks good - it's got quality 3D cinematography and effects work, and a slick design sense that updates the original Tron's imagery while shedding much of the campiness. The soundtrack by Daft Punk is terrific. The four credited writers are at least ambitious in their ideas, even if they are weak on characterization and clumsy in execution. This just isn't a movie that should have been handled by a rookie director. As well as Joseph Kosinski handles the technical aspects, he doesn't coax the little bit extra from his cast needed to sell his fantasy world, and he can't really put together a good action scene: It's one thing to throw a lot of pixels around to keep the audience busy, and quite another to create something that flows and lets the audience see how the various characters in a fight are doing (many mock the aforementioned Star Wars prequels, but George Lucas is darn good at that).

Plus, for all the crazy ideas and imagery "Tron" threw around thirty years ago, and for all Kosinski and company grasp at doing the same, the spark of discovery just isn't there in the sequel. Computers aren't magical and mysterious any more, and the "program" characters no longer look like pure electricity and information given human form - they're just guys in form-fitting suits. Three decades of "Star Wars", "The Matrix", and the like have made what we see in "Tron: Legacy" not quite old hat, but not strange and exciting enough to captivate on their own, and this team isn't the one to raise it to the next level.

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