All of Tron: Legacy's problems are conceptual - from why make a sequel in the first place to the particular rules of this program parallel universe.
It's only been a few days and I still quite can't get over it. The feeling lingers, like a dull ache in the base of your Achilles' tendon. It's the sensation that comes with being conned, with having wasted your time and analytical acumen on something subpar and unimportant. While dork domain can clamor all they want to about the return of Flynn and those still lame light cycles (not really practical from a travel or combat perspective, when you come to think of it), I am still reeling from my experience with Tron: Legacy struggling to put it and it's almost incomprehensible nonsense narrative into (1000 plus) words.
What we have here is a clear case of film as Fernando - i.e., a movie that believes it is better to look good than to be good. As a given, eye candy is aesthetically delicious. Taken a step further, fantastic eye candy can get you past even the most puzzling, Matrix-inspired mediocrity. Unlike, say, George Lucas, who takes an unrealistic and unscientific digital dump all over everything the minute he makes a Star Wars something-or-other (really, George? A battle over a raging lava field? 10000 story high skyscrapers? Huh?), the work done in support of T:L's Grid world is really impressive. Things look right. Things FEEL right. From the plasticine supermodels who act as outfitters to the rave club as Absolute ad, you really can't fault the fabrication of this fictional space.
You also can't spit on the talent in front of the camera. While our Hayden wannabe Garrett Hedlund does carry the same lack of pretty boy gravitas, at least he looks like he belongs in Tron's territory. Never once do we find ourselves shaking our head and thinking "couldn't they have cast someone better?" (Take that, Jake Lloyd!). Could be that the role of Sam sucks. Similarly, Olivia Wilde makes a perfect battle ready blow-up doll, her faultless eye make-up suggesting a resurrected Kevyn Aucoin or a serious student of same. As a pretty, superficial couple, they are the complete meat, leaving plenty of room for seasoned vets such as Bruce Boxlietner, Michael Sheen, and the living legend Lebowski himself, Jeff Bridges, to pick up a paycheck and do a version of the greenscreen boogie.
No, all of Tron: Legacy's problems are conceptual - from why make a sequel in the first place to the particular rules of this program parallel universe. Anyone whose studied writing, and science fiction scribbling in particular, will recognize the flaw in such a two pronged procedure. Without a strong idea at the core of your concept, you might as well be flailing about, free associating. Even worse, no outrageous reality can work without a fixed and concrete strategy. A lack of clarity regarding who and why things occur leaves a reader - or in the case of a movie, an audience - questioning everything. Instead of concentrating on your overall themes and allusions, they're wondering why certain characters have switched allegiances, or why elements and events seem to change (and cheat) at will.
Take the aforementioned optical two wheelers. In the original Tron, the trick was to maneuver said speeder through a set space, building carefully strategized barriers of light so that your equally meticulous opponent is left with no other option that to crash (causing a dreaded case of 'de-resolution'). They didn't come armed with their own unusual weaponry, machine gun turrets, on/off option, or anything newfangled and gussied up for the redux revamp. When Flynn Jr. takes on these tricky trikes, it shouldn't be a question of outlasting, but of outwitting. Yet in order to amp up the action-specific "WOW" factor, Tron: Legacy has these vehicles leaping like chimps trying to avoid a fire ant mound. They fly and float, spin upside and right round, baby...right round - and with NO RULES WHATSOEVER. As long as they serve as sensationalized 3D fodder, the filmmakers have fooled the fans and the latter don't seem to care.
Everything in the film is like this. What, exactly, is Wilde again? Some kind of digital/DNA combo? So... she's a Terminator? A repilcant? A deadly friend? If Bridges is baffled as to how to save her (since he couldn't stop the rest of her kind from their horribly inappropriate "Final Solution" like fate) she must be important, but we never know why. Toward the end, we hear something about Miss Mutant being "the future of the human race." Really? A weird computer clone thingamajig is gonna come traipsing out of giant desktop somewhere and, the next thing you know it, the entire planet is going to go Lady Gaga for her? It? Whatever? Last time anyone checked, society circa 2010 is about as open minded on issues of human-technology tweaking as an ancient Crusader on Ramadan.
Tron: Legacy is loaded with such head scratchers. Why offer up an offspring of original villain Ed Dillinger (in the form of Cillian Murphy's cameo) if you're going to do nothing with him inside the "game". Having him 'extemporize' a solution to a catastrophic bit of hacking during a board meeting is not a credible contribution. He just hangs out there, like a loose thread. Similarly, Boxlietner's Tron has been 'turned' at some point in the last three decades, going from a User Warrior to a hired Master Control Assassin with no real motivation or explanation. Does he get a moment of clarity? NAH! It's almost as if the screenwriters sat around, reading comics and drinking Red Bull, and dreamt up a bunch of disconnected ideas, each one passing a personal "is it cool?" test before landing in the laptop. This may be how the Jackass gang comes up with gags, but it's not how the make compelling sci-fi.
From its Grateful Zen hippy psychobabble to the dearth of computer truisms (Jeff Goldblum can stop an alien invasion with a Mac Book and a virus, but the Flynns can't figure out how to stop a rampaging diode doppelganger from building an army? What, is the villainous CLU equipped with a firewall?), Tron: Legacy offers up the kind of confusion that hurts. Not the good kind, like a Fountain/Black Swan Aronofsky or anything ala David Lynch. Instead, it's the abrupt and brutal kind of "what" that chaffs like sand in your swimsuit. It bites at the back of the brain and makes you question your skills of comprehension. Indeed, it's been four days and I'm still wondering "did I miss something?" With each positive review that arrives on Rotten Tomatoes, I query "what are they seeing that I'm not?". If there is something to this filmic fluff, I missed it. Apparently, F/X marks - and in this case, stands singularly as - the spot.