Is it wrong of me to prefer logic over spectacle? Did I miss the point when I left Tron: Legacy feeling it was a monumental failure as a story? If I’m to continue with this review, I must first make it clear that I don’t see the Tron films in the same way a lot of people do. I don’t believe they deserve praise simply for their innovative special-effects; personally, I require an engaging plot, character development, and the sense that it’s operating under a heightened but nonetheless understandable set of rules. In other words, I like a good sci-fi/fantasy film, but not when all effort is put into visuals and absolutely nothing is put into the screenplay. If that makes me a prude who wouldn’t know a cool movie even if it came up and bit me, feel free to stop reading and start searching the web for a more enthusiastic review.
Just like its 1982 predecessor, watching Tron: Legacy is a little like watching a demo reel from the visual effects department – all flash and bang but little substance. It makes not the slightest effort to be plausible or consistent, and freely glosses over glaring technicalities, the dialogue is unbelievably awkward, and the performances are wasted on characters with less depth than watching them in 3D. The plot is convoluted and impenetrable, and it seems the more it tries to explain, the less sense it makes. The entire concept of people living inside a computer is a logistical nightmare, but if I start rattling off a list, I fear I might not be able to stop. Its greatest offense is not having any audience in mind other than the original film’s fan base, which, when you think about, hardly seems big enough to have warranted a sequel in the first place.
Still, I will admit that the film is a dazzling sight to behold. I was especially impressed with work done on the character of Clu, a hacking program designed to look exactly like his creator, Kevin Flynn, but since people age and computer programs do not, it was necessary to digitally reconstruct the face of Jeff Bridges as it appeared over twenty years ago. The results are uncannily convincing. With just a little more development, we may someday see digital recreations of bygone Hollywood icons and not notice a difference. Imagine it – Humphrey Bogart acting alongside Ingrid Bergman in a sequel to Casablanca.
Since the events of the first film, Flynn got married, had a son, became a widower, and was promoted to CEO of a computer corporation called ENCOM International. He disappeared in 1989, leaving behind his son, Sam, and vague promises of a cutting edge digital revolution, one he claimed would forever change science, medicine, and religion. The story begins twenty years later, when a now twenty-seven-year-old Sam (Garrett Hedlund) breaks into ENCOM headquarters, distributes their newest operating system over the internet for free, uploads a virus into their mainframe, and escapes by jumping off the rooftop and releasing a parachute he just happened to have stowed away on his person. After his arrest and release, Sam is approached by ENCOM’s consultant and Flynn’s old friend Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), who says he received a page from Flynn’s office, the number of which has been disconnected for twenty years. So help me God, the man is still using a pager.
Upon entering his father’s abandoned arcade, Sam discovers a secret room with a miraculously functional computer and a fully operational laser; with a few careless strokes of the keyboard, Sam is zapped with light and transported into the computer world, known as the Grid. We then witness must have been an homage to the sepia-tone-to-Technicolor transition shown in “The Wizard of Oz”; the film shifts from 2D to 3D, which is a new one on me. Sam is immediately captured by electronically-voiced guards in black suits with glowing orange stripes. After being stripped of his earthly clothes, fitted with a black suit with glowing blue stripes, and linked with a memory-storing disc that doubles as a Frisbee, he’s pitted against Flynn’s program, Clu (Jeff Bridges), who has since turned evil. He’s then forced to participate in games of survival, including a race on digital motorcycles that trail light behind them. He’s rescued by a program named Quorra (Olivia Wilde) and driven away from the city into the surrounding mountains. Mountains. In a computer grid. And there are clouds in the sky, too.
I will now stop describing the plot and move on to some of the little things that drove me mad. There’s a house stocked with furniture, physical paper books, and food. I must assume it’s not some digital replication, for Sam is able to eat it without a problem. There’s a club high atop a sky rise in the heart of the computer city, where a program played by Michael Sheen struts around with a cane and speaks like a Dr. Frank N. Furter wannabe. The ending begs the question of how anything created in a computer could ever exist in the physical human world; after all, it’s all just a bunch of immaterial zeros and ones. The fact that I’m fixated on this when I’m supposed to be enjoying myself should tell you everything you need to know. Tron: Legacy is a horrendous miscalculation, one of the least understandable films to come along in quite some time. Oh well, at least there’s the Daft Punk soundtrack…
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Walt Disney Studios