Uh, did anybody see the movie Tron? No. No. No. No! No. No. No. No. Yes…I mean No. I mean Yes! In fact, I have also now seen Joseph Kosinski’s Tron: Legacy, and I gotta say, despite a rather tepid reception from both critics and fans, I actually quite enjoyed myself at this film.
I know, I know: After just feeling lukewarm about a universally praised movie like The King’s Speech, and now saying nice things about this so-so-reviewed film, I may be heading deep into Armond White territory for the past weekend. And, inasmuch as you can evaluate them empirically, Speech is probably a better film. Still, despite its often dopey plotting and the exposition bomb that derails the movie in its middle third, I had a grand time at Tron: Legacy. The film has definite problems, sure, but it looks and sounds great. (Daft Punk are easily the MVPs of this enterprise.) And, basically, it’s as good a movie as we had any right to expect for a sequel to a 28-year-old Disney film involving neon frisbee fights.
The thing about the original Tron, and I’ll probably catch flak in some circles for saying this, is that while it’s an interesting, even ground-breaking movie in its time in both story (it’s The Matrix before the internet) and FX (early, rudimentary CGI), it’s still not a particularly good film. I bought the DVD several years ago and was dismayed to discover that, David Warner’s villainous Dillinger notwithstanding, Tron didn’t really hold up to the warm glow of nostalgia I had suffused it with — The ideas work a lot better than the execution. (When I uncorked it again earlier this week and watched the first half-hour or so, I had basically the same reaction.)
With that in mind, I basically went into Tron: Legacy expecting not much more than a fetching, futuristic two-hour Daft Punk video. And, y’know, that’s basically what I got. Particularly in the first hour or so, when our hero Sam Flynn (Garret Hedlund, bland but passable) finds himself immersed in the 2.0 versions of the original movie’s gladiator games — the discs, lightcycles, and whatnot — Tron: Legacy delivers exactly the neon-lit, 200 bpm, raver-kid spectacle I was looking for from this flick. True, the story is all over the place, even early on. But watching Jeff Bridges goofily channel his inner Obi-Wan, or seeing Rinzler — the Big Bad’s acrobatic, twin-disced #2 — steal every trick out of the Darth Maul-Boba Fett “cool henchman” playbook is a thrill all its own. Sure it’s blatant pandering to the fanboy crowd, but it gets the job done.
This is not to say Tron: Legacy doesn’t have problems. Right about the time Jeff Bridges and Olivia Wilde first show up, this once-propulsive movie pulls into an expository gas station and stops dead for a good twenty minutes, while Kosinski et al try desperately to prime the story with deeper meaning: Bridges’ Flynn is the Creator of this realm. His first and most important creation, Clu (CGI-Jeff Bridges), has now turned against him. His Son — Son of Flynn! — has just shown up…I think you see where this is going. (The edgiest thing Tron: Legacy does here is to make the new lifeforms in the Tron-world — “Iso’s” — spontaneously generated, a.k.a. an accident of “biochemical jazz.” When you extend the metaphor, that makes humankind also a happy accident rather than divinely inspired…not that anyone but fan-folk are going to dissect the theological implications of this movie anyway.)
So, these are all intriguing ideas, but — as in the original film — they are somewhat hamhandedly introduced, and they all basically boil down to establishing the Maguffins that will get us through the rest of the picture. (“We need to get to the Portal!” “Don’t let Clu get the Disk!”) By the time Michael Sheen shows up soon thereafter as an egregiously over-the-top (apparently by design) nightclub owner, the movie’s recently-coined mythology is already severely confused, and the plot is barely even trying to hang together anymore. Why did Sam need “Zuse” to hop on a solar sail? What powers does Flynn possess in this world again? (To be fair, they were ill-defined in the first film also.) What is Castor on, exactly, and where can I get me some of that? The movie is getting to be a mess at this point, but…hey, look, it’s Daft Punk! And some Matrix-y ass-kicking to a electroglitch bounce!
By the third act, you’ll either have to allow Tron: Legacy its increasing plot absurdities or check out of the ride completely: Why can’t Clu and his Leni Riefenstahl army just jump through the Portal without this all-important Disk? Is that army really big enough to take over the world anyway? (It reminded me of Douglas Adams’ G’Gugvunntt battle fleet, who due to “a terrible miscalculation of scale” ended up getting eaten by a small dog.) And what got into ole Rinzler there? That seemed terribly convenient.
I can’t really defend the movie here — It’s loud and flashy and more than a little derivative of various moments in Star Wars (cf. Lando, the TIE fighter attack, the aforementioned Obi-Wan and Fett.) But, for whatever reason, I was perfectly happy to bask in the production design and score — and Jeff Bridges clearly having fun as a Zen Sensei –and just let the more ridiculous elements of the movie slide.
Did the world really need a sequel to Tron? No, probably not. But this film does decent justice to its goofier-than-remembered progenitor. And even if it doesn’t reach the level of its ambitions, it’s a perfectly entertaining event film that at least gets its 3D-thrill-ride aspects right. So I’d be up for another outing in the Tron-verse, particularly if they find more to do with Bruce Boxleitner and bring back Daft Punk (and, for that matter, the MCP. There has to be some reason Cillian Murphy was waiting in the wings…)