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Now Playing: ‘Tron: Legacy’ Dazzles, Disappoints

The way I’ve been describing ‘Tron: Legacy’, Disney’s new mega-budgeted sequel/reboot to a terrible movie that was only half-popular 30 years ago, is that it’s the weirdest $300 million video art installation you’ll see all year. By which I mean that Joseph Kosinksi’s film is not short on wonder, especially when his majestic images are coupled with the soaring, Tomorrowland-at-night soundtrack by Daft Punk. But when it’s forced to actually be, you know, a narrative, things slip away, and all you’re left with is computer bytes in an empty mainframe.

So it’s been twenty-something years in the ‘Tron’ universe. In that time, gaming genius Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) has mysteriously vanished, leaving behind a wayward son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) and a company that puts out sub-Windows programs once a year to huge profits. After the COO (Bruce Boxleitner, also from the original) tells Sam that he received a mysterious page from his father’s long-abandoned office, Sam goes there and, wouldn’t you know it, gets zapped into the computerized world from the first film.

Unfortunately, things have gotten much worse. The grid is now a sprawl of totalitarian regimes, while lightning crashes and wind whips around our hero. He’s quickly spirited away to the “Games” – arguably the only aspect of the first film that anyone even vaguely remembers. This is where he takes place in the “Disc Wars,” and where he’s forced to race the “light cycles” against the movie’s villain, Clu – a de-aged, digitally augmented version of Jeff Bridges as he was in the original film.

The first hour or so of the movie flies by, largely thanks to the gee-whiz 3-D visuals (which only activate once Sam has crossed over into the Tronworld) and the aforementioned score by Parisian electro pioneers Daft Punk. If you’re watching the film at an IMAX 3-D cinema, the music sounds like it’s erupting from deep within your chest cavity.

Once the movie takes a second to catch its breath, with Sam being spirited away from the cityscape by tough-as-nails Quorra (Olivia Wilde) to meet his absentee father in a house that looks a lot like that room at the end of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘, things start to fall apart. Bridges gives it his all, both as his power-mad computer generated doppelganger, and as Flynn, who’s kind of like The Dude if The Dude wore a neon-lined kimono. (At one point, he says, “You’re really messing with my Zen thing, man.”) But he has very little to grasp onto. The father/son bonding thing should have been the movie’s strongest element and its emotional backbone, but it mostly falls flat, aside from some nice Daft Punk cues.

Instead of the bizarre art piece that it was in the first hour, in which people in amazing costumes walk slowly around gorgeously visualized sets (both real and virtual), the movie gets bogged down in the worst kind of science fiction plotting. It’s something about Clu wanting to use a portal to enter the human world. Or whatever. A series of only moderately exciting action sequences try to keep it afloat. (It should be said that, at some point, Michael Sheen shows up as a flamboyant club owner and all but sashays away with the movie.)

The film climaxes with a pretty breathless aerial version of the light cycle chase. There are also a few surprises along the way, especially if you’ve kept up with the first film. Overall, my recommendation is this: See it in the biggest, baddest, possibly IMAX-iest theater and just get transported for a couple of hours. Don’t get too caught up with the story, or the endless series of sci-fi clichés. It’s an accomplishment, for sure, but one that you wish would make you feel something besides a burning urge to go pick up the soundtrack album.

13 comments

  1. I kind of expected as much on this, that it would be nice eye candy but lacking in the story department.

    What makes it all the more disappointing is those rumors that circulated a while back about how the movie’s writers consulted with Pixar for help in formulating the story. I guess those claims were exaggerated.

    Also: teal orange teal orange teal orange teal orange teal… There literally do not appear to be any other colors in this movie than teal and orange. The original was mostly blue. :(

  2. Patrick A Crone

    Considering you started the review out with bashing the original film. I’ll have to discount it. I watched the original just a few weeks ago and I am still amazed by it. The story has been borrowed from countless times now. The visual style still sets it apart from any movie I’ve seen since. You can say it’s nostalgia keeping me blind to Tron’s faults, but you could say the same about the original Star Wars.

  3. I hoped for more from this, but as the advertising has continued, my expectations have dropped to the point where this article pretty much sounds like what I expected.

    I really love the first film, but this looks like it’s trying too hard. It’s also lost the originality, by the looks of it, in favour of standardised action. After all, when was the last time you saw an action scene with vehicles that could turn 90 degrees? Now they just drive like normal bikes/cars from the clips we’ve seen (I could be wrong?).

    As for the Daft Punk soundtrack… already heard it, and it’s functional but nothing to get excited about. Shame they didn’t get a good film composer to work on it, instead of trying to grab some ‘cool’ headlines with a couple of dodgy euro-electro-pop guys.

    I’m going to see this in 2D, and if it can’t stand on its own as an enjoyable story and experience without IMAX and 3D, then it’s the film’s own fault.

  4. I have a feeling I’ll be dragged to see this. I tried watching the original again recently since I loved it as a kid and boy does it not hold up. It just… bad.

    Jeff Bridges is cool, but nothing makes sense – it’s just silly!

    • EM

      The original “Tron” came out when I was a videogaming kid. I should have been the perfect audience member for it, yet I avoided the movie. I’m not sure why I wasn’t interested—I think a cryptic publicity campaign had something to do with it.

      I finally got around to seeing “Tron” as a mature adult (more or less). You’re right: the movie is nonsensical and silly. I saw that right away. Even if I take the depictions of the computer world as less than strictly literal, I still can’t make logical sense of it—an especially damning problem given that a computer world should be eminently logical. Yet despite the flaws, I love the movie. I think I manage to look at it not as science fiction but as fantasy, and it works better that way. Perhaps the computer world is a little like Oz—maybe Dorothy did dream Oz up, and maybe what we saw of the MCP’s domain was really just Flynn’s interpretation of it into terms his human brain could wrap itself around. Plus I really admire the pioneering spirit in the computer world’s unique look, which not even the sequel will quite replicate.

      As for whether I’ll enjoy the sequel, I’ve no idea. But I’ll try to give it the same benefit of the doubt that I’ve given its predecessor. If it turns out I like it, I’ll be the real beneficiary.

      • EM

        Having now seen “Legacy” (in 3-D!), I disagree with Drew’s title: I was neither dazzled nor disappointed.

        On dazzle: The look of the new film’s digital world evokes but does not ape or attempt to ape the look from the original. I would have been disappointed if “Legacy” had tried: a new look is a virtue in movie sequels and is practically de rigueur in computing. Furthermore, much of the original look was due to analog processes unique to that film, and an attempt at CGI carbon-copying would have been a distracting failure (much like the attempts to make Bridges look young again). The new look is serviceable, but frankly I found it generally dull. I realize “Legacy” was depicting a dictatorial régime and I expect a quasi-expressionistic reflection of that; but the same was true of the first film, which nevertheless managed to inject a little more life and color into its image. The new film’s look works and is even impressive (all the more in 3-D, I think), but it didn’t dazzle me.

        On disappointment: As I said to a friend while we were en route to see the new movie, I try not to set high expectations; that way, I will not be disappointed if the film fails to excel. (The conversation then segued to my amazement 11 years ago when I set low expectations for “The Phantom Menace” and even those were dashed violently.) I did not have high expectations for “Tron: Legacy”, and “Tron: Legacy” did not disappoint me. I found it entertaining; neither my time nor my money was wasted. But in my view, it’s no classic and no match for the original. As I said in the above post, I can overlook the flaws of the original because of its pioneering spirit. “Tron: Legacy”, while it did smartly avoid the trap of too closely copying its predecessor, nevertheless failed to gather enough originality—or spirit—to exceed the status of low-expectations entertainment.

        Oh, well—maybe a decent Disneyland ride will come out of this.

  5. Finally saw it, in 3D unfortunately (The 2D showings were few-and-far-between, at stupid times). I still can’t say I’m impressed with 3D. It’s okay, but all too often it takes you out of the immersive experience of the movie (Even though it’s supposed to do the opposite). Mainly because the 3D varies between subtle and therefore negligible (So may as well just be 2D) and accentuated, in which case it takes you out of the story to think “Oooh! A 3D moment!”.

    Fast moving items also look too juddery/blurred, I find. Not to mention it all looked rather dull and desaturated in comparison to moments when I raised the glasses to see what the difference was like.

    Just finished my own review, so click on my name if you feel like checking my blog to read it. ;-)

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