Review: Joseph Kosinski's 'Tron Legacy' Sequel is All 0's & No 1's
by Jeremy Kirk
December 22, 2010
To be fair, you can't take the special effects away from Disney's Tron Legacy (playing in 3D in theaters now), and you wouldn't want to. It seems to be the only thing the film has going for it, and the new digital age the sequel 28 years in the making finds itself in seems to be the perfect one on which to unleash itself. The world of CG has grown tremendously in the past three decades. So, too, have the worlds of screenwriting, plot pacing, and film making as a whole though you wouldn't know that judging from this colorful and digitized monorail wreck.
The film is really the perfect follow-up to 1982's TRON. The legacy, per se, of that film is one born out of nostalgia. It is nostalgia for a film that is mostly style and very little substance. If the people behind Tron Legacy wanted to amp up both, they can give themselves a nice pat on the back. The style is grander, and the lack of substance has dwindled to the point of absolute nonexistence, as if the 1s in the binary code of the film's narrative and story structure, which has an effect on the film's excitement level, have blinked out, and all that are left is a string of 0s the entire width of the Grid.
Tron Legacy's story definitely has more potential than its predecessor. It opens in 1989. Jeff Bridges' returning Kevin Flynn is telling his young son, Sam, a bedtime story about The Grid, as well as his and his friend Alan's avatars within that digitized world, Clu and Tron. Kevin leaves the house and disappears without a trace.
21 years later, Sam, now grown into Garrett Hedlund, is the majority stock holder of ENCOM, the company of which his father was a programmer and eventual CEO. Sam spends his days doing what all young billionaires might do. Racing the cops on a Ducati. Base jumping from the top of a skyscraper. Sam also has a yearly knack for playing a prank on ENCOM, whether that be releasing their latest software update to the public for free or uploading cute images of his dog to their boardroom monitor.
It's on the evening of one of these pranks that Sam has a visit from Alan, once again played by Bruce Boxleitner. Alan tells Sam he has been contacted by Sam's father. Hoping to be reunited with his father, Sam goes to his father's arcade, where he is subsequently transported into the Grid. Disc wars, light cycle races, an extremely hot Olivia Wilde, an evil avatar bent on taking over both the digital and real world, and a very Zen Jeff Bridges ensue.
It isn't so much the lack of substance found within Tron Legacy's story that hurts it so much. That is an element of film that could be easily overlooked for the sake of excitable entertainment. Sadly, first-time director Joseph Kosinski can't even provide that. The film's opening moments, those showing Sam in the real world, build the possibility of being engaging. The board room meeting, actually a reshoot done on the fly just a few months ago, is downright interesting and built on reasonably strong dialog as well as a surprising cameo. Unfortunately, Sam is transplanted into the computer world far too soon.
From there, there are the gladiatorial games that have made the TRON video game such an entertaining pastime for nearly 30 years. Sadly, those, too, disappear all too quickly. Before we know it, Sam finds his father, and the robed Jeff Bridges who is more Dude-like than usual (a notable chuckle emits every time he calls his son "man") begins the onslaught of expository dialog. Seriously, for a CG-laden film that cost upwards of $200 million, you might be surprised when all the talking begins. You'll be even more surprised when that same talking doesn't seem to want to end.
There's an understanding, of course, to how the film needs to play out. The story developed here revolving around Flynn's avatar, Clu, breaking away from his user and becoming the evil tyrant of the Grid as well as a new life form that manifests within that world that could change everything requires a lot of explanation. They essentially have backed themselves into a corner with this story. To get their point across to the audience, you know, so we're not completely confused as to what is going on, they rely on characters explaining everything away. It's a poor choice, one of many Tron Legacy makes, and it ultimately does the film a disservice, turning what could be a dumb fun movie into boring lecture that feels like it's trying to be smarter than it is.
A few moments arise from the muck of exposition and idiotic pacing. Michael Sheen as Castor, a nightclub owner within the Grid, gives a raucous performance decked out like Ziggy Stardust whited over. The gladiatorial games near the beginning are a welcome return to fans of that element of the first film as well as an upgrade in the speed and style with which they are presented. There is a chase scene near the end that almost builds the film's climax to something approaching exhilarating. Daft Punk's electrifying score thumps and fuzz basses its way all the way throughout.
However, for every good element found within Tron Legacy, a dozen poor or odd elements arise. As mentioned earlier, the CG through the film is impressive save for one, major element. Flynn's avatar, Clu, the villain of the film, does not age. He does not share the same craggy and weathered face of the Jeff Bridges of 2010. That's fine, but the execution of mo-capping Bridges' face and putting it onto a stunt double results in one of the worst cases of dead eyes and poor CG characters in history. Nothing about the effect is life-like, and it's made even worse when the character has to talk. The mouth just doesn't work. It is unbelievable to think someone approved of this, a horrid use of motion capturing that is utterly distracting every time it shows up. It's the worst part of a film that seems to thrive on bad decisions.
The acting within the film is hit and miss. Bridges isn't turning up the thespian level in his scenes, but he brings the Dude-like charm to the Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque character well. Hedlund stumbles his way through the film with only a few moments here and there of teasing something better. It's nice to see Boxleitner returning even if for only a few scenes, and he does a fine job passing the torch to the new kid on the block.
Having said that, though, it remains to be seen whether Tron Legacy is a launching point for a new franchise, something Disney was surely hoping for. There is room for continuation based on where the story ends. However, if the legacy of TRON is to continue, something has to change. The pacing of the next film has to be more charged, the story has to be simpler to explain to its audience, and it just has to entertain.
Tron Legacy's biggest annoyance (other than that awful Bridges' face) is that it is simply boring, a $200-million series of two-shot conversations. By the time the excitement actually presents itself, you're too bogged down in exposition and downtime to even really care. The source code in the film is bulky and presented with a resounding thud where it should have felt slick and moved with the speed and grace of one of those light cycles. Instead, this film about a digitized world seems to be pulling itself along in a wooden cart with one, stone wheel. If that's reinvention, I'll take something tried and true.
Jeremy's Rating: 3 out of 10