Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Bruce Boxleitner, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen, James Frain
(Walt Disney Pictures; US theatrical: 17 Dec 2010 (General release); UK theatrical: 17 Feb 2010 (General release); 2010)
Well - at least it looks good…kind of…
Is this really what we’ve waited 28 years for…and better yet, was the original Tron such a stunning example of past missed opportunism that the aesthetic ATM known as Disney needed a $200 million resurrection of same? With its techno-nerd overreaching and “aren’t computers cool” conceit, the 1982 original was intriguing, if ultimately unsatisfying. It got by on quasi-cutting edge F/X and the still new frontier of digital moviemaking. Sure, the storyline sucked, but the light cycle sequence…
Now, outside the wide-eyed wonderment of original writer/director Steven Lisberger, Tron: Legacy steps in to remind us of how hokey the whole programs/parallel universe idea was in the first place. In the hands of obvious obsessives (and Lost scribes) Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis and helmed with absolutely no sense of scope by first time filmmaker Joseph Kosinski, what once seemed prophetic is now puerile. Imagine the Matrix sequels squeezed of their Wachowski-crafted visual awe and, instead, over-emphasizing their stunted philosophical psychobabble and you have some idea of how irritating the experience is.
This is blowhard geek Zen for viewers too dumb to understand any part of that stated description. It’s a long, intensely complex crock, a movie that tosses around uber-dorky science speak like a bumbling ‘50s b-movie. The storyline sees Flynn (Jeff Bridges, who hopefully got paid a LOT of money), the young gun programmer from the first film, settling into his life as CEO of ENCOM. With his young son Sam (eventually, Garrett Hedlund) by his side, he hope to bring a whole new level of innovation to the world of personal computing. When he disappears, it devastates his child. For the next twenty years, Sam suffers from being too smart, too rebellious, and too distracted. While family friend Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) holds court in the boardroom, the young Flynn tries to find his way.
When he discovers his father’s past experiments, Sam has no choice but to follow suit. Suddenly, he’s propelled into the virtual world known as The Grid, a digital domain run by Flynn’s CG doppelganger CLU (an ageless Bridges, in a weird bit of motion capture ‘magic’). Ordered to create the “perfect system”, the electronic entity is holding his human creator hostage, hoping to get his identity disc and take over. Helping him is a band of retrofitted programs, transformed into an army ready for invasion. Playing the games mandated by the region’s rules, Sam finally finds his dad and teams up with “special” assistant Quorra (Olivia Wilde) to destroy CLU and restore order to The Grid once and for all. As usual, it’s not quite as simple - or safe - as it sounds.
Like listening to an insufferable sci-fi purist endlessly spin their tale of diode dungeons and dragons, Tron: Legacy is a trial. It is way too long (clocking in at over two hours), far too full of itself, and in desperate need of an arrogance enema. Like all entertainment egomaniacs, the movie makes hay out of half-baked speculative fantasy falderal - and such blatant boisterousness is boring. There are no rules in the Tron world. We don’t get the connections between the “users” and the “programs”, there is no great villain like the first film’s Master Control or Dillinger. Instead, we get the standard dictator stuff, including talk of genocide and oppression. Toss in the tendency for the action scenes to be underdeveloped and underwhelming (should the fight sequences be so flat and lifeless?) and you’ve got an experience that’s all bark and no real cinematic bite.
In fact, Tron: Legacy is that rare follow-up that fools you into thinking that the first film was better than it really was/is. Though Disney made the dumb decision of keeping a new DVD/Blu-ray update of the title under wraps until early 2011, fanatics for the original will either eat this up like so many memory chips, or chaff at the approach taken by the revamp. For the most part, the actors appear capable. Bridges captures the earnest energy of Flynn in the first part of this update, even if the F/X used to make him young render him a bit robotic. When he turns into a bearded human Yoda, however, the Obi Wan wheeziness is palpable. The recent Oscar winner also voices CLU, a computer generated entity who seems overly muscled and stiff. During a final, Nuremberg inspired speech, the fake figure gives away his mechanical, made by machines ideal.
Hedlund, on the other hand, is like a deeper Hayden Christensen, still stunted by a look that would make Abercrombie and Fitch catalog casters happy…if just. He doesn’t possess the necessary nuance to involve us in his quest, coming off as cocky and entitled when he really should be begging for our identification. Similarly, Ms. Wilde’s weird replicant in waiting work as Quorra looks good, but never becomes a fully realized character. Her eye make-up is more memorable than her personality. The dialogue doesn’t help. Conversations are made up of expositional mandates and weak mythos, their drawn out particulars filling us with a sense of ennui, not excitement. Tron: Legacy simply takes itself too, too seriously. It wants to be something big and bombastic. In the end, it’s just dull and deliberate.
With a price tag so hefty it will have to spend a half-life trying to recoup and a real lack of vision, Tron: Legacy is like an interesting proposal extrapolated out to ridiculous, unrealistic proportions. Going back to the quarter arcade anachronisms of the early ‘80s to see how far we’ve progressed is a pretty good idea and, if done with the right amount of reverence and innovation, the results could be incredible. You just know that Tron: Legacy thinks it nailed such high minded objectives. It wears such erroneous overconfidence like one of those goofy gleaming Grid light suits. No amount of meditative sky walking gobbledygook or sleek CG production design can salvage something stunted to begin with. Tron: Legacy is a letdown. Let’s hope this misfire marks the “end of line” for this fractured faux franchise.
Well - at least the score by Daft Punk was good…