Movie Review: TRON: Legacy (2010)

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A scene from TRON: Legacy
Photo: Walt Disney Pictures

I would say the original Tron was a product of its time. Considering I was only five-years-old when it came out, you may say I’m a product of Tron‘s time. Yet, I hadn’t seen Tron until two years ago and suffice to say, I wasn’t impressed. However, ever since first getting a look at test footage for TRON: Legacy back in 2008, it was clear this film was going to attempt to be as visually revolutionary as the first film. But, while TRON: Legacy is visually impressive, it’s narratively impaired. The story is overly melodramatic and features dialogue you’d expect from a rough draft, not to mention it feels like more of a “History of Science Fiction” stew than an original product.

While watching, it was impossible not to begin listing films director Joseph Kosinski and his team either purposely emulated or unknowingly ripped off including Blade Runner, Star Wars, THX 1138 and even a stunt that looked as if it was pulled right out of The Dark Knight. Tack on the familiar narrative and you have a wholly unoriginal film, not to mention a lifeless one.

Okay, that’s not entirely fair. Early on the film shows promise. Twenty-plus years have passed and Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) has been gone this entire time. His company, Encom, has experienced massive growth, but it’s a mere shadow of its former self — greedy and corrupt. Sam (Garrett Hedlund), Kevin’s son, is the majority shareholder, but he shows little interest in having anything to do with the company except for a couple times a year, when he allows the rebel in him to come out.

Things begin to change, however, when a mysterious message sends Sam back to his father’s old office at Flynn’s Arcade, where Sam finds himself thrown onto the digital grid and face-to-face with his father for the first time in over 20 years. Sam’s first hours on The Grid are among the best minutes the film has to offer in an impressive Disc Wars scene and a light cycle battle that proves to be the only reason to really watch the film.

Once the action dies down the words begin to roll and this definitely isn’t an Aaron Sorkin or Coen brothers script. Rote, uninspired and uninteresting is the best way to describe this long-in-the-works screenplay by “Lost” TV series writers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. It’s no wonder why these guys have been stuck scripting cancelled television series up to this point, this story is about as dumbed down as it gets.

When Flynn isn’t telling us stories of “isomorphic algorithms” and “quantum teleportation,” he’s laughing off wifi as he channels the days when Bridges played The Dude. I know it was an intentional decision to make sure Kevin Flynn’s vocabulary hadn’t updated with the times, keeping him stuck in the ’80s when he first found himself trapped, but at some point it just gets old. While I did get a laugh out of his “The guy doesn’t dig imperfection” line, the rest of it never comes across as funny or authentic.

Hedlund is fine in the lead role as Sam, but that’s only when you compare his performance to the words he was working with. Had the material been any more heady he would have been lost. Olivia Wilde is a nice distraction, but she’s just that, a distraction from whatever story is trying to be told around her. When her character sends Sam off to find the enigmatic Zuse we find ourselves in a rave scene out of Matrix Revolutions (only with blue laser light instead of green) and it’s at this point the story sputters to a halt.

As I mentioned, the effects are, for the most part excellent, but there’s one effect that hurts more than helps. Anytime you see the digitally altered face of Jeff Bridges as his 20-year younger self, CLU, you begin to cringe. Digital Domain successfully took Brad Pitt through the aging process in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but the attempt to deliver a younger version of Bridges is primarily a failure. The end result looks like a combination of live action and the uncanny characters from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Anytime his mouth moves you’re wondering how they felt this was acceptable.

On a positive note, the score by Daft Punk is a lot of fun and far more fitting than the goofy score that accompanied the first film. The electronically inclined French duo don’t overstep their boundaries and deliver a score Kosinski easily infused into the production to the point it seems the music was just as much an inspiration as were the visuals.

Unfortunately, a solid score and a few scenes of impressive visual effects can’t save this stunted two hour feature. From a 3D perspective very little is done to impress and while Kosinski may have the visual eye, his narrative inclination is lacking, but considering this is his first feature film judgment should certainly be held for a later date.

TRON: Legacy isn’t a tragic mess of any sort, kids should love it, but if you’ve seen even a handful of classic sci-fi films you’ll find yourself frustrated at how such a cool idea can be ruined by lack of narrative imagination. The bits and bytes are there, but the overall software needs reprogramming.

GRADE: C

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