Film Review: “TRON: Legacy”

by Jason LeRoy on December 17, 2010

© 2010 - Walt Disney Pictures

starring: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, James Frain, Michael Sheen

directed by: Joseph Kosinski

MPAA: Rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language.

Right off the bat: I’ve never seen the original TRON. It came out the year I was born, and simply never entered my orbit. The first technological marvel that rocked my little boy ass was Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which presumably built upon some of the breakthroughs achieved by TRON‘s filmmakers. All of which is to say, I am not a TRON fanboy. This film has zero nostalgic appeal for me. So puny is my knowledge about the film, in fact, that I didn’t even realize Jeff Bridges was in it until my Legacy companion, Gordon, informed me after we watched this new sequel.

My expectations for TRON: Legacy could not have been lower. With that said, I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

The film begins with a brief prologue in which we’re introduced to a younger Kevin Flynn (played by a creepy CGI Polar Express version of Jeff Bridges in flashbacks, which also appears as Clu once we get to “the grid” or whatever the fuck) as he bids an all-too-fond farewell to his young son, Sam, before leaving for work. But then Kevin promptly and inexplicably disappears, leaving Sam to be raised by his grandparents, growing up into a bored, spoiled, meddlesome majority shareholder in his father’s company, never having learned what became of him (Sam is played as an adult by the affable Garrett Hedlund, poised to become a star because of this film, despite having co-starred in Georgia Rule).

One thing leads to another (a segue I’ll invoke frequently, given the numbingly convoluted plot), and somehow Sam ends up being transported into the digital universe his father famously constructed. At first this seems exciting, some sort of electronic fantasy world, but Sam quickly discovers his father’s creation has become far more dystopian than idyllic. Once he finally locates his real father (craggy flesh-and-blood Bridges), Sam finds that he’s been forced in a sort of imprisoned exile ever since his creation rebelled against him.

Can I just take a moment to point out the Christian allegory playing out here? Sorry, but it smacked me over the head midway through the film, and then it was all I could see. The “father” creates a new world and “people” in his image, but they rebel almost immediately, consuming the new world with violence and cruelty, attempting to banish their creator. But then, the “true” son of the father is sent to make things right, restore the father, etc. I know, I’m reading into it, but it’s just so there.

Anyway. Sam decides to rescue his father and take him back to the real world, along with Quorra (Olivia Wilde), some sort of special hot-lady creature that is very important for reasons I failed to grasp. But the local authorities are determined to stop this from happening, leading to a final act that basically consists of one big extended chase scene. One thing leads to another and to another and to another, and so on. Not the most compelling storyline in the world, but I didn’t doze off.

So here’s the thing: I never expect much from movies like this. I figure they’ll look, feel, and sound exactly like other movies in their genre. And I never expect anything from the plot or characters, as those expectations are especially misguided. So, given my expectations, I was surprised to discover that I enjoyed TRON: Legacy on an aesthetic level.

Once we get to the digital world, the visuals and effects are elegantly, coolly jaw-dropping. The film maintains a remarkably strong sense of discipline about its color palette, only showing us shadowy blacks, neon oranges and yellows, and an electric ice blue. And then, of course, there’s the score by Daft Punk (who also appear as DJs in one the more exciting scenes), which lends the proceedings an evocatively moody synth feel.

This is clearly not an actor’s film, but the cast still acquits itself nicely.  As Sam, Hedlund is given the most undeveloped character, displaying his range in the following two ways: (1) screaming “DAD!” while looking aggrieved, and (2) cracking rote clichés like, “Now that’s what I’m talking about!” during action sequences. On the other hand, Olivia Wilde is to be applauded for taking a character that is utterly intangible on the page and investing her with enough seductive mystery and alien watchfulness to connect with the audience. There is also a hilariously unrecognizable performance by Michael Sheen as some kind of Bowie-style social impresario.

And then there is Jeff Bridges. Watching him in this film, I was tempted to say that he’s gotten to a point in his career where he’s basically playing The Dude in everything. And this is clearly his big paycheck victory lap after finally winning an Oscar earlier this year for Crazy Heart. Good for him. But after seeing True Grit the day after I watched this, I can attest that Bridges is most definitely still a gifted and diverse actor. He’s just coasting here, presumably going off-script for such crowd-pleasing Dude-isms as “It’s bio-digital jazz, man!” and “You’re really messing with my zen thing here, man.” Why not.

TRON: Legacy is perhaps less action-packed than some would hope, and it leans far too heavily on its limp dialogue and overly complicated storyline to engage the audience. But it still manages to find a compelling tone somewhere between warm ’80s video game nostalgia and cold moody sci-fi. Forgive the heresy, but it actually reminded me somewhat of Dark City, in that it takes place in a pitch-black neverland with style to spare. Especially coming from first-time director Joseph Kosinski, TRON: Legacy is a modestly impressive achievement.

RIYL: video game movies, the original TRON, stylish sci-fi

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