Film: TRON: Legacy
Starring: Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, Michael Sheen
Written by: Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Genre: Science Fiction, Action, Adventure
Rating: 6 out of 10 / C+ (with conditions)
WARNING: MAY CONTAIN MILD SPOILERS OR PARTICLES OF SPOILERS!
It’s been almost 30 years since Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) got digitized into a computer. Since then, he grew his company ENCOM into the world’s leading computer and technology firm. In 1989, however, Flynn disappeared, leaving his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) without parents and without direction. One day, Flynn’s old friend Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) tells Sam that a page came from Flynn’s old office in his arcade, which hasn’t been used in 20 years. When Sam goes to investigate, he follows in his father’s footsteps and gets digitized into a computerized world where Flynn is living in exile with his protégé Quorra (Olivia Wilde), while Flynn’s master program, CLU (also Bridges), has become a fascist dictator who will do everything in his power to stop Sam and his father from getting back to the real world.
Do you remember the original Tron? Me, either. I remember a lot of colors, and a pretty cool Wendy Carlos score, but that’s about it. And if you thought you might check out the original to refresh yourself, you’re out of luck. Disney has pulled it back into “The Vault,” a place only slightly harder to get into than Mount Doom. What I do remember is very little plot, very little memorable acting and a whole lot of super-cool video game-style set pieces. Apparently, director Joseph Kosinski was a big fan of the original, because Tron: Legacy is more of the same, but bigger, brighter and in 3D.
This is Kosinski’s first film. Most of his work prior to this was in CGI and effects for commercials, mostly for cars and video games. Tron: Legacy doesn’t try to hide any of that. The film is most alive when it focuses on the vehicles and gears of the computer world, but it becomes almost completely inert in between light cycle races and disc battles. Even some of the action pieces have a hard time building up their energy. Several of the fight sequences seem to have been edited with a machete, and none of them have the kick, drive or sheer enjoyment of another movie-inspired-by-video-games, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. The first act disc battle is done well, for instance, if not thrilling, but other fight scenes are disjointed and muddled. At least the light cycles are wicked cool, and that’s really why you’re here, right?
But a movie has to have actors. Flesh and blood people. There are a few of them in here. Sort of. Garrett Hedlund might be a good actor, he might not. It’s almost impossible to tell, given the anvilicious and confusing script by Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, and Kosinski’s mediocre dramatics. If anything, Hedlund has a certain degree of charisma, and he knows how to fill out a bodysuit.
Jeff Bridges isn’t particularly good or bad in either of his roles, kind of coasting through on a Buddhist surfer charm as Flynn or chewing up the bits and bytes of scenery as CLU. In flashback roles and as CLU, Bridges has had a digitally de-aged face grafted on, and the effect is rather disconcerting and creepy (although given CLU’s nature, that may be the entire point). Olivia Wilde comes off the best of the principals, seeing as how Quorra seems to be one of the only characters with a personality of any kind, although how much of that is Quorra on the page and how much of that is Wilde herself is up for debate. The most memorable performance, though, is Michael Sheen as a smarmy club impresario.
Think about that last sentence. What is a night club doing in a world inside a computer? (For that matter, why does an arcade that hasn’t worked in 20 years have all of its games in mint condition and an active power supply?) The world of Tron has certainly changed in the last 30 years. While most of that is due to the technological innovations since then, it’s also an example of how expansive the computer world has become since 1982. Still, the world inside the computer seems far too realistic. Clouds and seascapes seem completely out of place in the setting. At the very least, everything looks fantastic. The design of the world is impeccable, and the 3D effects are handled extremely well. After a few minutes, you’re so used to it that you forget that you’re watching it in 3D. While it doesn’t serve the film nearly as well as Disney’s other holiday offering, Tangled, it certainly doesn’t detract from anything.
What does damage the film, though, is its plot. Of course, I’m assuming that there’s one actually there amidst all the technobabble, unexplained backstory and silly pseudo-philosophical ramblings. The film is kind of like a reverse Matrix, although blessedly without the pretentious Gnosticism-for-Dummies undercurrent. There’s a decided lack of tension and drama in the film, and while some of the scenes definitely are exciting by themselves, the whole doesn’t add up to much. In fact, it’s hard to care about what’s going on; you just want the film to get on with the next bout of digitized mayhem. Never mind the climax, which brings a whole new meaning to the phrase deus ex machine.
The majority of the heavy dramatic lifting is done by the score by Daft Punk. It’s highly fitting that two men who present themselves to the world as robots craft the music for a film set inside a computer. Awash in dark, lush strings and accompanied by purposefully overprocessed tribal drums and deliciously thick Moog organs, the music is haunting, evocative and propulsive in all the places that the movie itself is not. Some of the best music, and the music that sounds most like Daft Punk’s usual output, is in the club scene with Michael Sheen, where Daft Punk play themselves (that is, robot DJs). The song “Derezzed,” which accompanies a fight scene with Sam and Quorra against CLU’s guards, is a perfect electro-stomp gem.
In fact, it’s Daft Punk’s gorgeous electronic score that brings this film up a notch, from a 5 out of 10 to a 6 out of 10. Maybe the film is a victim of overhype, seeing as how teaser trailers first started appearing over nine months ago. Maybe it’s a victim of a film that exists mostly in the realm of nostalgia and never really needed or called out for a sequel, especially one 30 years later. Maybe it’s a victim of a first-time director given a massive budget and an infinite canvas. Disney must have liked the results, regardless: Kosinski has already been hired to direct a remake of one of Disney’s other sci-fi properties, the laughably awful The Black Hole. (Good news on that front: Kosinski has nowhere to go but up.)
Should you see it? It’s not a bad film, and it isn’t completely full of itself. It’s mostly enjoyable, if way too long, and it’s perfectly designed for both big screens and 3D. But I just saw it about an hour ago, and I’ve already forgotten a good chunk of it. Error: data not found. This is a program that runs fine, and does what it’s supposed to, but it definitely needs a patch to work all the bugs out.
Reviewed by JOHNNY M