Another Tron: Legacy Review
Hopefully you're all hungry for more Tron!
I didn't see the original Tron (1982) until recently, and my experience of nostalgia for the film is limited to a playground game where we all hit each other with Frisbees. Seeing it now was something akin to enjoying a wine past its prime. The story of a man who is sucked into a computer and forced to battle "programs" to survive, Tron remains a unique experience, but held more impact in 1982 when computers were more fantasy than utility. The film's initial flop and subsequent disregard by its producer Disney has guaranteed Tron remains relevant mostly through the memories of children of the 80s. Tron's neon computer animation and pop-art action sequences are eye candy still, and distract wholly and effectively from a story that is mostly gobbledy gook but Tron is a victim of time. Primitive graphics and outdated references to RAM and I/O ports make the film a tempting novelty, but for new viewers Tron is more silly than exciting, and perhaps some of us wonder what all the fuss was about.
Enter Tron: Legacy. The "man sucked into a computer," Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), has been missing for 20 years, and when his son (Garrett Hedlund) goes searching for him he is inadvertently sucked into a computer as well. Within the computer system, called "The Grid," a program developed by the elder Flynn to manage The Grid has gone rogue and begun reconditioning other programs to create the perfect computer ecosystem. Or, at least that's how I understood the plot, which seems to change the rules of its universe rather on a whim.
Legacy is more of a spiritual successor than a direct continuation of Tron. It follows the same timeline, but tends to repurpose the original film's mythology in the hope of forging fanbases similar to those of The Matrix or Star Wars (Bridges has rather elegant Obi Wan robes). But the world of cinema has passed Tron by, and the story of The Grid is not fleshed out enough to compete with the sci-fi greats; there are far too many occurrences of the "just because." Try as I might, I couldn't wrap my head around why programs dance at nightclubs, why they eat things like green beans and smoked pig (and where do they come from?), or Flynn's apparent Buddhist superpowers. As with the original Tron, Legacy and I saw eye to eye only when I stopped trying to understand and let the visuals take me away.
Take you they do; truly impressive work went into the look of the film. If Tron was maximalist neons and strict, straight lines, Legacy is your minimalist blacks and whites, your smooth and shiny surfaces and your negative spaces. Action scenes are thrilling, aided tremendously by the bombast of the Daft Punk score. Less time is spent on disc games and light bikes than the previews would have you expect, and everyone seems to know a fair bit of capoeira, but that's par for the course for contemporary sci-fi. Special mention must be made of the CG technology that re-created a young Jeff Bridges' face and mannerisms for the role of rogue program Clu. If I hadn't been told it was an artifice, I'd have happily believed in the fountain of youth.
Eventually, you just kind of go with Tron: Legacy. It doesn't move as frantically as its predecessor and some slower moments hurt the film's pacing, but the visuals alone make it a worthwhile experience. Perhaps it takes itself more seriously than it ought to; in dealing with the personification of computer programs, it's probably good to be a little playful. But audiences looking to be delighted by lights and colors will find what they are looking for. While waiting in line to leave the theatre I overheard a few groups of people discussing the film and instead of the usual high-fiving over action scenes and explosions, everyone was asking each other what the hell it was all about. At least I'm not the only one.