Wasting My Money So You Don't Have To: TRON Legacy
Tron. Now that's a hallowed word, my friend. It's a word that almost belongs in the bedrock of scifi itself; revolutionary in a day when the internet was still a Department of Defense managed entity unknown to the masses of the world. It was an imagined landscape of digital reality when few such templates actually existed and technology could barely keep up with the demands of Hollywood.
Taken in 20/20 hindsight, the movie seems almost corny in retrospect, but only because its screenwriters were producing a movie on the very frontiers of fiction along side other classics such as Blade Runner with no idea of what the future held two decades hence. The acting dialog adapted to describe TRON's digital world seems hokey today and the plot itself is quintessential of Disney's wholesome work in the 80s. When coupled with the the admittedly bland CG and compared to movies like Avatar, TRON arguably hasn't exactly aged gracefully.
And even so, it's a classic; the yardstick by which to compare its sequel: TRON Legacy.
Well, ladies and gents, I'm here to tell you there is no comparison. Realistically, this should have been a slam dunk-- Tron Legacy had an entire world to build upon and the CG to back it up. The premise was actually an interesting one: Son and disillusioned corporate heir Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) finds out that not only is there the possibility that his MIA father Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is alive, but trapped inside the very virtual world he helped to create. Sam is drawn into the world of TRON during his investigation and cue plot.
Yes, this should have been an easy execution given the material at Disney's fingertips, but reality tends to take days off when Hollywood dollars are concerned. Where the original was the ground breaking in it's interpretation of a digital universe, Tron Legacy is merely content to ride on the heels of the other Hollywood products around it while paying only a passing nod to the source. Sure, there's the wholesale plot dump that details what happened in the intervening years that it took Flynn's kid to grow up, but there is little beyond that. Instead the movie defers to other films, notably The Matrix and Blade Runner to keep it moving. You don't get to see recognizers stomp Tron tanks. Light cycles make their appearance for exactly one scene, and gone are the 90' degree movements they make, companion bits, and other notable landmarks that one would expect to see more- or more of -in a sequel twenty years in the waiting.
First, let's get this out of the way... The movie is pretty and today's modern CG is put to use. The soundtrack courtesy of Daft Punk is likewise epic and in keeping with the digital mood. When the movie decides to pay attention to an element of vintage TRON cinema, it usually does a competent job at it. I was also surprised, finding myself liking the interaction between Sam and his father. Both played their two decade estrangement perfectly. Even CLU (also digitally de-aged Jeff Bridges) made for an acceptable- if fairly generic -villain.
In short, there are things to like about this movie. It's just too bade it's mired in an equal if not greater amount of Hollywood 'me-too!' kludge.
The first thing the aspiring ticket holder is likely to notice is that the world of Tron is dark. Very dark. Unnecessarily dark, though one can chalk that up to stylistic preference if they so chose. The problem with that dark is that it was purposely forced into the mood of the movie as well, tainting everything from the action to irrelevant debauchery of the cantina scene where one has to ask... Why? Why are these programs fornicating, drinking and even dancing as if they walked into a bar from blade runner or were dancing the rave in the middle of Zion? Why is The Riddler from Batman lore a goddamn go-to person in said bar? Viewers of the original will remember that TRON is none of this, nor does the plot bother to explain how this well-spring of hedonistic behavior came into being... And isn't that what the ISO beings were supposed to represent before their extermination anyway?
Okay, I'd chalk this up to nit-picking if it were the only plot fail involved, but speaking of ISO's, apparently a life or death battle to get the old man out alive wasn't enough. Producers felt it necessary to shoehorn in a contrived story about new digital life forms, a love interest w/said life form and potential for world wide digital invasion led by CLU into the plot along side the death of Kevin Flynn. Oh yeah, not just an invasion of networks world wide, but a real life invasion consisting of thousands of digital soldiers that will some how come out the other end of Flynn's digital lazer as real people to try and take over the world, Pinky.
Okay, so I can take the data disks becoming Frisbee rings. I can take magic wands that will become anything you ask them to be, up to and including virtual jet aircraft (and hey, didn't the disks do that in the last movie?) "Mister Potter! This wand is 10 1/2 firm, made of torrent source code and megahertz. Give it a good flick now."
I'm sorry, though. I have to draw the line at Eric Flynn's sudden 70s hipster flash backs; as if that was actually his character in the original movie. It hurts. It hurts A LOT to see the source material butchered in this manner. Even the original vinatage costumes were more detailed than the black wetsuits they wore in this movie, as if the producers couldn't be bothered to instill a modicum of quality into their creation. There's emo black styling and then there's lazy. Legacy is frimly in the latter.
Tron Legacy is a movie that would benefit from not only a healthy amount of moderation, but staying true to its roots. In the end, it's a watchable rental that is content to fall lockstep in with the more modern (and better) cinema. Sadly, that cinema is less the movie that spawned the franchise. Honestly, you'd be better off picking up a copy of the game Tron 2.0: Killer App for a more authentic rendering of the franchise, and better sequel material to boot.
Verdict: Redbox it.