As a die-hard fan of the original TRON, I have been dreaming of this day since the first visuals appeared at Comic Con ’08. When I saw the light cycle in person at SDCC, I knew it was destiny that I would be there for opening day. Two years later, standing in the rain for an early showing, the prophesy came true. I even took my 5-year-old son to hopefully capture some of the same magic from 2 decades earlier. I then went back for a second viewing that night to get a second perspective of the movie. The original TRON had ground breaking effects, introduced an original universe, and a great score. However, that same original had terrible character development, confusing story devices, and a low-stake plot. To my own dismay, 28 years later, the sequel does the same. The difference is that TRON 1982 held a significant place in our pop culture heritage while I fear Legacy will not.
Unfortunately, the pros can be summed up in a handful of visuals and a compelling sound track. You could tell that before the movie was barely conceived or the first story line written, that there were a few scenes that were already being crafted in the mind of director Joseph Kosinski. The first 10 minutes of the movie felt like something out of a Christopher Nolan movie with urban tunnels and swooping cityscapes. The capture of Sam into the TRON world, his outfitting, and the first battle sequences were all stunning. The first third of this film is very inspired stuff comparable to my experience seeing the first Matrix. Unfortunately, when they leave the game grid they also leave the best parts of the movie behind. The sound track from Daft Punk could not be any better. It’s as if Daft was genetically engineered (or programmed) for this movie. The music is so epic that it almost fools you into thinking more is happening than it really is. I immediately downloaded it and I am considering it an instant score classic. Now on the cons.
While the first act is by far some of the best visuals I have seen in years. The 2nd act of the film comes to an almost grinding stop. It becomes very ponderous with a bunch of ‘talky, talky technobabble’ and a few boring flash back sequences. Not only is it not that interesting but it doesn’t help bring clarity to the quickly developing murky plot. Legacy tries to create space for Flynn and Sam to reconnect but the emotional thrust is not there. Legacy becomes so serious so quickly that there is nothing fun about it once you get to this part of the film. Then it really blows it by the final act of the story. It turns into a typical ‘Star Wars-esque’ chase sequence and showdown with the villain. Sure there were explosions and ships zipping around (and the deceptive pumping score), but it was not nearly as creative as the earlier 1/3rd. While the action serviced the plot, what everyone will leave talking about is the earlier arena battle scenes.
The next huge con is the lack of character development and plot. Different characters start out interesting but it goes no where from there. There is no real character arc for anyone and characters are dispensed with as quickly as they are introduced. The loss of one particular character is very unrewarding. Being the master of stereotypes, it’s no surprise that Disney character exit the movie the same way they are introduced. The problem is that you don’t know who to ‘root’ for or identify with. There are several obvious choices but there are not obvious reasons why. You simply want the good guys to win and the bad guys to lose- booooring. Besides trying to get Flynn back out to civilization, another plot device is introduced but it’s importance is not totally clear and by the end, I honestly could cared less about this secondary plot. Unfortunately, Legacy is a two-dimensional story and characters placed in a stunning 3-D world. Instead of it being the story 28 years in the making it ended up feeling more like 28 minutes. Like the original, the characters never seemed like they were ever in real jeopardy and I never felt like the stakes were very high. For a moment, I thought I was caught up in a bad re-mix of Matrix Revolutions and Episode II Attack of the Clones. Either of which are not good to be associated with. I found myself ‘re-writing’ the movie while I was watching it, which is usually a bad sign. I accepted the story but it was against my will.
End of line..?
With all my pros and cons out of the way, I still have to say I enjoyed this experience. Much like the orignal, its doesn’t have to hit on all cylinders for me to leave with a partial smile on my face. I actually enjoyed the CGI doppelgänger of the younger Jeff Bridges. Sure the effects were pretty sketchy at times but I appreciated the ambition. If there is a ‘legacy’ to this film, it might be the introduction of artificial actors in cinema. This was only about 75% there but I imagine we will be seeing the perfection of this technology in the years to come. As frustrated and unfulfilled I was with this film, I still recommend it- especially if you are a fan of the original. The first 1/3rd of the film is worth it alone. There is also a sense of nostalgia which is becoming more rare over time for children of the 80’s like me. Plus, it has sequel potential written all over it which might give Disney a chance to right it’s wrongs with this one. The 3-D is pretty ‘meh’ but the IMAX experience is superb. To my sadness, history may regard this as an incredible visual ride but ultimately a failed sequel. I guess we will see what my son will say about it 2 decades from now and if he will have the same nostalgic memories as I did as a child.
I give this the same rating as the original, a 3 out of 5 Babbles.
Check out my earlier review of the original TRON.
Bonus: I had an incredible opportunty to ask Jeff Bridges a question about TRON at Comic Con 2010- here it is: