Theatrical Review: TRON: LEGACY
Writers: Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz (screenplay and story), Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal (story), Steven Lisberger and Bonnie MacBird (characters)
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, Michael Sheen
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Over two decades ago, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) got sucked into a computer, spat out on to a “Game Grid,” and had to battle a malevolent computer program to survive. In the present day, his son Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) gets sucked into a computer, spat out on to a “Game Grid,” and has to battle a malevolent computer program to survive. And while all of this sounds like a stunning (and needless) retread, Sam has the added problem of having to find his dear old dad and pull him out of the Grid with him.
TRON: LEGACY has been in the works for over a decade, a highly anticipated, ruthlessly marketed, and unquestionably huge tentpole event film for Disney. Placing such expectations on a film is a swift way to be disappointed, especially when we consider its forbearer – which, in these terms, shares little with its LEGACY. TRON was such a bust for Disney back in 1982 that it, along with THE BLACK HOLE, forced Disney to not make another live action film for ten years. Over time, the film gathered a dedicated fanbase who marveled at both its vision of what technology could be and the groundbreaking techniques used to blend animation and live action. And though TRON: LEGACY shares some of these marvels with the first film, it also amplifies that film’s flaws to ludicrous, unbearable levels.
The film’s characters are drawn with broad, messy, and oftentimes inconsistent keystrokes. Sam is a wild child. Alan (Bruce Boxleitner, reprising his role from the original) is a faithful guide. Quorra (a game and gamine Olivia Wilde) is curious. And it's certainly odd to see our old Kevin Flynn turned weak, masking his fear with a strung-out Zen zaniness. Drew McWeeny summed it up best - he's “Obi-Wan Lebowski.” He's even wearing a robe that could fit either role. There's a sense that Bridges was allowed to just let go in this role, “to knock on the sky” as Flynn puts it. It’s always a joy to watch Bridges, but his reappropriated Dudespeak only serves as a humorous diversion in the film, a moment of respite from every other bit of dialogue so ham-fisted and cliché that it makes you wish Daft Punk would just turn the damn dial up and drown it out.
The only character that seems to have anything going on under the surface is Clu (played by Bridges, de-aged through CGI, looking both spectacular and strangely unsettling). The least “human” of the characters is the most layered, a ruthless dictator pursuing a perfection that’s not so much rooted in his make-up, but instead in the daddy issues that hold his code together.
In addition to being a film about father-son relationships and the stunning impact of technology on our lives, TRON: LEGACY also attempts to mix in a number of other big ideas into its muddled script, not limited to corporate espionage, theories on freedom of information, along with totalitarianism and war and religion and greed. But it’s so overstuffed as to be incomplete, often coming off as frazzled and directionless.
It’s hard to imagine that TRON will satisfy its two main audiences – devoted fans and curious newcomers. There are, of course, bits that call back to the first film, but not nearly enough to satisfy people who have loved the film for two decades (even when the film unfurls its greatest secret, a wonderful piece for fans, it’s shortshrift, a talking point, a treat for a later date). And people coming in sight unseen? Even being familiar with the first film, I was confused, even just by general mechanics and logic. There are so many weaknesses in the script, so many holes, so many questions, that it’snearly impossible to enjoy TRON: LEGACY, even for just its technical boldness and prowess.
But TRON: LEGACY suffers all the more because, underneath its myriad of basic issues with plot mechanics, character development, and cohesiveness, there are moments that hint at the solid and entertaining film lurking underneath the mess on screen.It should surprise no one that TRON: LEGACY is a stunning watch. And its dazzling looks don’t just fall to the side of pure spectacle; there’s a real dynamism to the film’s key action sequences that temporarily elevate the entire film. The lightcycle battle alone is worth the price of admission. There is even visual vitality out in "the real world.” Daft Punk’s much-hyped score adds a level of interest and complexity to even the most lifeless of scenes.
Yet, what may be most egregious about TRON: LEGACY’s flaws is that we seem to be unavoidably due for more of them. For anyone who has doubts as to the fact that TRON: LEGACY is here to set up at least one sequel (and, more likely, to jumpstart a full franchise), they need look no further than both the first and last five minutes of the film, as both sequences hand us new heroes and new villains that have little to do with the rest of the film. TRON: LEGACY feels like sparkly, gutless bait, but the whole thing left me so cold and disengaged that I can’t imagine anyone biting it.