I know it’s a pun that’s been done to death elsewhere but having just watched Tron: Legacy I really don’t have a CLUe about where I stand on this film. For some reason Tron carries a very strong resonance from my childhood, I can remember seeing it at the cinema when it came out (I would have been about 5 or 6) and loving the visuals but not having a CLUe (sorry, last one I promise) about the story. Since then in the span of almost thirty years I’ve only seen the whole film at most a dozen times more, which puts it far down the list of movies that I watched repeatedly during my childhood. Films such as Terminator 2:Judgement Day, Die Hard, The Indiana Jones Trilogy and BTTF (by odd coincidence 3 of those 4 examples have suffered from belated disappointing sequels) all regularly took up space in my VHS player but Tron? Not so much and yet that mysterious bond to the franchise is still there. I guess this is why I am not foaming at the mouth with impotent rage at Tron : Legacy. Yes, with ‘Legacy’ I was mildly bored in places and yes, CGI Jeff Bridges is an uncomfortable watch and yes, if I never see the film again I won’t be too upset and yet strangely I feel like I shouldn’t put it down too much. At least it’s not another ‘Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull’ and for that I am thankful.
The first alarm bells go off just a few minutes into the movie, after a very nice intro sequence that neatly places us in Sam Flynn’s bedroom we get our first look at CGI Jeff Bridges and by ‘look’ I actually mean ‘overlong stare at his rubbery dead-in-the-eyes face’. It’s enough to make you squirm in your seat and it doesn’t stop there, CGI Bridges appears throughout the entire movie especially during the numerous flashback sequences. To give the film makers credit there are plenty of occasions when they almost nail it, the hair looks perfect, the skin texture is there but it’s always the dead eyes that gives the trick away and before you know it you’re falling head first into an IMAX sized uncanny valley.
Fake CGI people are least of the films problems, there’s pacing issues, hokey dialogue (“bio-digital jazz” anyone?) and a handful of un-engaging lead characters who meander from point A to point B, a bit like The Matrix Reloaded but not as bad (although it doesn’t reach the few high points of The Matrix Reloaded either). Certain story points aren’t fleshed out enough or totally wasted; Flynn’s retro lightcycle is introduced and then tossed away in a heartbeat and just what is the actual threat of Clu breaking into the real world? It’s implied he would royally fuck things up for us but with no idea how and to what extent it’s difficult to appreciate the threat and how on earth would his massive army and huge battleship squeeze into the exit point of the grid i.e. Flynn’s lab in the basement of the arcade? A few bolder story ideas are brushed upon but never really explored, a prime example being Clu’s faults that are born from Flynn’s own flawed character therefore making them one and the same.
It’s not all bad news though, the action scenes early in the film play out nicely (despite how easy it is to lose track of whose who), Olivia Williams does a good job with her naive but feisty character and Garrett Hedlund does better than expected. It’s lovely to see Bruce ‘Tron’ Boxleitner from the original movie make an appearance and I quite enjoyed Michael Sheen channelling David Bowie although his role will definitely polarise opinions as well as bring up Merovingian/Matrix comparisons. Daft Punk prove an excellent choice as soundtrack composers and their big screen debut offering is excellent throughout the movie, it definitely bolsters what could otherwise have been a flat experience. Obviously the whole thing looks lovely and despite the complaints about Clu 2 it says something that not for a second did I have an issue about how good the world of The Grid looked. There’s a sneaky ‘Wizard of Oz’ style ‘2D-to-3D’ switch when Sam is first transported to The Grid but overall the 3D isn’t worth the extra cost of admission, it’s not as bad as ‘Clash Of The Titans’ but it’s no match for ‘Avatar’ either in fact towards the end I forgot the 3D effect was even there.
In the end the thing that boggles my brain the most is the paradox of how Tron: Legacy is a sequel that has been designed to work as a standalone film. You could possibly quite easily watch this film without seeing the first as all the required back-story is offered up via flashbacks which in a way negates the need for the first film to even exist. As a story ‘Legacy’ doesn’t do much of anything to expand upon what’s already been set up which makes me wonder why it needed to be a Tron film at all? The title character is merely a peripheral element to the story and if you strip all the Tron elements away you’re left with a none too original ‘boy trapped inside a computer’ story. Considering the potential of the source material it sadly all seems like something of a wasted opportunity. If anything the whole exercise comes across as a move to capitalise on a cult brand and hook in people like me which is ironic given Disney’s efforts to distance the original film from today’s younger audience amid concerns that it’s dated looks would damage Legacy’s box office; have you seen a Tron Blu-ray or DVD on a store shelf anywhere lately? Thought not.
So, 900+ words later and I’m still no clearer on where I stand. Tron: Legacy is a film with plenty of problems to stop me from going back for another watch and yet despite my complaints I didn’t hate it enough to out & out say it was utter shit. Although I did end up writing a lengthy blog post about it, I guess that’s unexplainable childhood resonance for you.