The original TRON was a film very much of its time, a time before e-mail and VOD, when those who had them looked upon the strange box sitting their desks with a mixture of awe and trepidation. Not having grown up with them, the population whose closest encounter until then with a computer had been HAL or the talking computer on Star Trek, wondered what was going on in there. Reports of strange flashes of activity during periods of putative hibernation in the eras super-computers gave one pause. TRON with a dash of whimsy and a heavy dose of imaginative animation, took that and those intrepid rogues, the computer science geeks who were redefining the accepted business model, and put it all in an idiom that the end-user could assimilate. Even programmers and the geeks themselves could find much to love in a world of sentient programs who worshipped their semi-mythical users.
TRON — LEGACY, too, is a product of its time, though not in a good way. Visually it is dynamic, imaginative, engrossing, and just plain fun. The old Tron cars are here, souped up and finding new ways to effect the utter destruction of an opponent, said dis-integration effected with the quaint tinkle of broken glass as people and things are reduced to their constituent bits, cubed, and tumble to the ground before disappearing. The grid on which it all takes place has been expanded into an entire, intricately realized world, including an ocean that is metaphorical and wet at the same time. The most striking, though, is how Flynns digital alter-ego, Clu, is not the Jeff Bridges of 2010, but the one from 1982. That younger face seamlessly integrated onto the body, faultlessly executing the required facial movements and expressions.
The new film takes full advantage of the advances in animation since 1982 and it does something else thats been a problem since CGI made the impossible a few keystrokes from fruition. Story-wise, its a lead balloon, rife with dialogue that sounds as though it were being recited by rote by actors who have been told that under no circumstances should they inject anything resembling a personality into the reading.
To catch up the audience, there is a prologue of sorts in which the place of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) in the world of hi-tech games and pop-culture is introduced by way of his mysterious disappearance when his son, Sam, is at the tender age of six. Twenty-one years later, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is exercising his stock options by playing an annual prank on his fathers company, Encom, and putting off his surrogate father, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), who would like Sam to take a more positive part in the companys life. When Alan tells Sam that he has received a mysterious page from Flynns old arcade, the one that has been shut down with the phones shut off for twenty years, Sam heads over for a look and finds the portal his father used to visit the virtual world he created. Once translated to the virtual world, he finds not only his father, now grown old and zen-like with his robes, prayer beads, and general attitude of doing nothing as being the most productive course of action, but also Clu, who has had an unfortunate programming directive built into him that has wrought havoc of a fascist nature. Dialogue, aside from being leaden, is of a painfully expository nature. Situations beyond the action sequences progress slowly. Characters claim to see Tron, the Alan Bradley digital counterpart, but perhaps for budgetary reasons, the younger Boxleitners face is barely seen, only an armored program with a shiny black helmet. Flynns apprentice Quorra (Olivia Wilde), is a bright-eyed innocent who drives like a madwoman, adores the works of Jules Verne, and has surprisingly little to say of actual interest.
Idioms are peppered throughout. Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Blade Runner and a dinner scene straight out of 2001, all rear their heads uncertainly, never congealing into anything beyond the vague hope that the attempt to tell a story full of mystical import will overcome the many faults made in the telling. While there is little suspense to be found as the film progresses, there is a startling sense of betrayal as the climax reveals something that, if used at the outset, would have negated the need for any of the previous action.
The film gets a few things right as far as the current zeitgeist and it would be wrong not to acknowledge that. The board running Encom is concerned with the bottom line rather than product, for example, the young turks with a passion for industry having retreated to a state of entropy. The best moment is when Flynn, having tweaked the code of a program discovers that its still not doing what he wants and bops the offending program/storm trooper on the head, whereupon it works perfectly. Alas, that pretty much sums it up. That and Michael Sheen as a sprightly club owner who injects what can only be described as a CABARET-esque interlude. Silver of hair and eyes, he fairly bursts off the screen in a blast of joie de vivre that can barely be contained by his swoops, swirls, and crackling delivery of lines that are dull, but in his treatment, seem almost like sophisticated badinage.
TRON — LEGACY is a hollow thing, but it might have been a delightful silent film. The judicious use of intertitles, and a reliance on how very good it looks would have hidden many sins and allowed the viewer to focus on what is best here.