The original 1982 TRON is a nerdy delight. As an 11-year old, burgeoning computer geek, D&D fan and sci-fi dweeb at the time, seeing that film now (good luck finding it--thanks, Disney) re-kindles a smoldering nostalgia for monochrome, green-lit Apple IIe computers, writing dumb little text adventures in BASIC language and wondering how much memory it took to create the Recognizer's, tank programs and Light Cycles that populated the blue/grey world of TRON. I've seen it countless times.
One of the things that happens when you watch TRON countless times, tough, is that it becomes apparent that the movie isn't really that good. It suffers some serious pacing issues, the script is loaded with goofy dialogue and the narrative comes off like it was written by a teenager; a really nerdy teenager. Which I'm sure is why it appealed to a whole generation of geeks. Silly, woodenly acted (excepting Jeff Bridges and David Warner) and poorly paced as it was TRON was an idea movie with the benefit of some now iconic art design by Moebius and Syd Mead to take your mind off it's more tepid moments.
And, despite its flaws, I'll still watch it anytime it's on. That's just how it works. The shit you love as a kid sticks with you long after your tastes evolve.
So maybe it shouldn't come as a surprise that while TRON: Legacy is not particularly good, suffering many of the same flaws of its predecessor, I still couldn't help having a soft spot for it. Nostalgia is a bitch like that.
If nothing else TRON: Legacy is a love letter to fans--though one penned by a small army of writers--in that it's a true sequel. When we meet Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), son of ENCOM founder Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) who mysteriously disappeared twenty years before, he's a disaffected cyber-punk who breaks into ENCOM to steal the company's latest operating system, sabotaging its launch to release for free on the internet. It's quickly apparent that the apple hasn't fallen far from the tree.
After he's bailed out of jail, Sam gets a visit from Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), Kevin's old friend and current ENCOM board member who asks Sam to check out a page--yes, he still carries a pager--he received from Kevin's old arcade office; a number that's been disconnected for twenty years.
Sam goes to Flynn's arcade and discovers a secret door behind the cabinet of a TRON game which leads to an old office where Kevin Flynn kept the bio-digitizing laser that was the portal to the computer world of the Grid. A couple of curious keystrokes later and Sam finds himself zapped into the virtual world, where he's immediately picked up by a giant, imposing, extremely cool looking Recognizer and sent to compete in deadly games for the amusement of roaring throngs of "programs".
But soon he's discovered to be a human "user" and is brought to CLU (Jeff Bridges again, digitally de-aged to "look" twenty years younger) the program written by Flynn to bring perfection to the free flow of information in the system. CLU has become an autocrat who endeavors to escape into the real world with the help of Kevin Flynn, and he believes Sam is the key to forcing Flynn's hand.
When Sam is broken out of a Light Cycle game by Quorra (a smoking Olivia Wilde), she takes him off the Grid to his father, who's been in hiding all this time in the system. He was betrayed by CLU after the manifestation of ISO's, imperfect digital beings whose existence could irrevocably change the nature of science. Sam just wants to leave the Grid with his father and sets out to return them to the real world.
TRON: Legacy feels like the kind of film that started shooting before they had a finished script. The patchwork of half-developed ideas such as the implications of the ISO's on medicine, art and religion are never fully fleshed out.
Even the nature of their manifestation, which is a play on biogenesis, is blithely written off as "bio-digital jazz". The ramifications of their existence are merely alluded to and are obviously meant to be utilized in a future film. In fact, there are a few threads like that, such as Cillian Murphy's uncredited cameo as Ed Dillinger Jr., son of Kevin Flynn's human nemesis from the first film or the character of TRON himself, who is only mentioned a couple of times in his namesake film.
The uneven narrative pacing belies the work of a few script doctors indulging in too much exposition that bogs down and muddles the plot, especially in the late second act, which is a problem since the film exhausts its best action sequences early on. Despite all that, director Joseph Kosinski pulls the film together into a serviceable, if lurching, whole.
And there are some pretty great looking action sequences played out on a re-imagined Grid that satisfyingly update the cool but quaint look of the original film and re-write it large, in glorious Imax 3D. The disc battles and Light Cycle races look awesome and up the ante, design wise, while the world itself achieves a darkly dystopian look that augments some Meadesque art design with a dose of The Matrix to create a cold, brooding landscape. The only place the FX work falls flat is in the de-aging of Bridges. Occasionally it looks uncanny, but when it's called upon to replicate a performance the illusion falls apart.
There are plenty of nice little shout-outs to the fans: ENCOM's "really big door", Journey on the jukebox at Flynn's arcade and the appearance of an occasional tank program should warm the cockles of your inner geek (though, sadly, I noticed no "bit"). Daft Punk does a fine job with a score that sticks to the original's synth-laden, new age roots while adding a darkness that compliments TRON: Legacy's darker tone.
But really, it's Bridges' presence that is the ultimate fan nod. His performance is a fairly thoughtful return to Kevin Flynn's Zen optimism, hacker rebelliousness, and the loving father he became since we last met him. Bridges is kind of coasting here, but even so, Bridges coasting is still fun to watch.
The only other player enjoying themselves as much is Michael Sheen as Castor, a sort of digital nightclub owner who lays on the cheese with such unapologetic thickness that he gave the movie a campy pulse.
Wilde plays Quorra like she doesn't really get the script either but she looks amazing in skin-tight rubber. Kudos to the costume designer, Michael Wilkinson.
Garrett Hedlund has a sort of Hayden Christensen aspect to him, delivering a fairly wooden performance in a fairly non-descript way. I read somewhere that Chris Pine was offered the role. I wish he'd taken it.
But I accept TRON: Legacy. The film looks incredible in Imax 3D and despite it being an unformed sequel, its ideas are still fairly intriguing. It's clear they were trying to please the fans and were even taking a fairly appreciable risk in banking a franchise on a cult film whose fan base is hardly a legion. It's not great, but in execution it's at least as good as the original, and it's trying to be original.
Which is why I like it better than Avatar. End of line.
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