Starring: Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, James Frain, Garrett Hedlund, Michael Sheen and Olivia Wilde
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Perhaps marking three score of undergraduate exams in the last three days has liquefied my brain to stale tapioca, but I didn’t hate Tron: Legacy. That isn’t to say that it is a good movie, per se. Were I god-emperor of entertainment, I would change a great many things about Tron. First, I would balance out the Bridges to Boxleitner ratio a little more evenly. Then, I would teach the writing team that it is okay to let the images tell the story, rather than making the dialogue chock-a-block full of exposition. Despite these and other flaws, I still found Tron: Legacy a passable action movie/sequel. I mean, it’s not like we’re dealing with The Phantom Menace or Robocop 3. The simple fact is that Tron: Legacy is too average to do anything to my childhood memories of light cycles and the ring game.
*Minor Spoilers Ahead*
Tron: Legacy is a story about a world built inside of a computer. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) creates this world after he’s digitized into his former employer’s mainframe during the original Tron movie. This virtual world, known as The Grid, was to be a place of perfection and equity between people and their programs. To help build this world, Flynn created a program in his own image called CLU (CGI Jeff Bridges). CLU, however, interprets his directive to create the perfect system a little too literally and starts purging all imperfections. These imperfections include a group of programs who spontaneously appear on The Grid and, for some reason that I didn’t quite understand, hold the key to humanity’s future. Skip ahead in the story and Flynn’s spoiled brat of a trust fund offspring Sam (Garrett Hedlund) gets digitized into The Grid when CLU, who has turned himself into the Mr. Burns of cyberspace, sent a pager message to Kevin Flynn’s trusted friend and colleague Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner). While this works without painfully taxing the part of my neo-cortex that manages suspended disbelief, it could have worked better if there was even an ounce of nuance in the storytelling.
I suppose there’s nothing wrong with CLU being so megalomaniacal that you might mistake him for a 1930s European dictator, especially when other characters start talking about his purges and his “Black Guard”. It even fits with established canon because it’s not like the MCP from the original movie was up there with Shakespeare’s Iago in the playbook of complex antagonists. Similarly, I can’t find fault with programs dropping to their knees when they see Kevin “The Creator” Flynn lay some hurt upon CLU’s security goons. I mean he made The Grid and probably everything in it, so that likely makes him akin to The Dude God. Then there are all the references to Steve Jobs in the form of Kevin Flynn’s trade shows or the exorbitant pricing of Encom’s OS 12 when the only innovation is putting the number 12 on the box. My issue is that where the original Tron nudged me in the elbow and asked, “hey, did you get that reference to technology or religion that we just made?” Legacy has sexy ladies in glowing spandex slap me in the face with a hot skillet before asking me if I want some more.
Granted an action movie can sometimes get away with such heavy handedness, an unfortunate side effect of Tron’s aversion to subtlety is that most of the characters come off as horribly one-dimensional archetypes. Kevin Flynn is The Dude the wise master Jedi. Sam Flynn is the spoiled rich kid with a heart of gold. Quorra (Olivia Wilde) while not a bimbo, is indeed a token female character who will likely end up having sex with Sam. CLU is Hans Gruber. Jarvis (James Frain) is CLU’s Wayland Smithers. Occasionally the movie attempts to add some depth to the characters. One such example sees Sam and Quorra leafing through Kevin Flynn’s library and name-dropping nineteenth century writers like insecure English lit students. But rather than offer character depth, this struck me as an attempt to show the audience that one of the writers watches Frasier on a regular basis. Despite all this, I still didn’t hate the movie.
So what the hell is wrong with me? Am I blinded by nostalgia? Normally, cookie cutter characters and a predilection to exposition would motivate me to cut a movie up like a civil war barber-surgeon in the aftermath of Gettysburg. Strangely enough, I think the movie’s biggest flaws are working together in a very weird way to keep the movie above water; the movie follows the action film formula (exposition, introduction, petit conflict, relaxation, escalation, deus ex machina, resolution) so perfectly and uses well-established action hero archetypes so effectively that it becomes a triumph of mediocrity. Tron: Legacy is a safe movie for Disney precisely because it is so firmly entrenched inside the box. Even the shiny visuals don’t really do anything new thanks to James Cameron and his movie that shall not be named. The only genuinely good thing about this movie is Daft Punk’s soundtrack – which I listened to while I wrote this review. Actually, there are two good things, Daft Punk and Toby Turner’s literal trailer.
While the first Tron was hardly Citizen Kane, at least it offered the audience something new. Tron: Legacy offers the audience something utterly familiar, but perfectly adheres to the conventions of popular narrative. In short, I don’t hate the movie because the story, uninspired as it may be, was well told for the masses. Tron: Legacy connects to that part of my brain that seeks entertainment without critical thought. Granted, that didn’t stop me from filling my yellow legal pad with the movie’s plot holes as I knocked back a few post-movie pints. Still, credit where credit is due for getting one past my ninja-like impulse to eviscerate bad movies.
Tron: Legacy might have avoided my hatred, but that does not stop me from branding it as a mostly thoughtless action movie that lacks any of the charm, subtlety or novelty of the first film. If you love the original, you can watch this sequel without fearing for your precious childhood memories. End of line.
Overall Score: 0