Not Such a Quickie Review: Tron Legacy

Has it really been twenty-eight years between Tron and its sequel? The personal computer boom, the world wide web, e-commerce, 3D, the XFL, Daft Punk—all of these things were merely glimmers in a dreamer’s eye when the first Tron appeared. While Tron may have seemed a computing club odyssey in the eighties, Tron Legacy is like a short trip down the information superhighway in 2010, easily relevant and hugely appealing. Except if it’s not.

Tron Legacy is the odd movie whose visuals are perfectly realized but whose story and characters are firmly 2D. Briefly, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is trapped inside an arcade game, and it is the job of his bad boy son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund), to come rescue him in “The Grid.” Clu, Kevin’s computer avatar, has hijacked the game and is now intent on world domination, prepared to teleport an army of bad guy “program” soldiers to Earth. If ever you thought about buying a good antivirus, Tron will convince you of it. There are many other subplots tied to this tech universe; many of these are frustratingly unexplained or are tied to threads from the first movie.

This brings me to my biggest pet peeve: the world of Tron is no world but instead a carousel of pretty images. Mixed together in the movie’s overlong two plus hours are influences as mystifyingly diverse as Zen Buddhism, electronic music, Atari, Akira, Ziggy Stardust, Jules Verne, modern architecture, open source, and Russian science fiction flicks such as Aelita or Solaris. I wished many times during the movie that the director would just pick one idea and stick to it.

Not to say it isn’t an attractive, seductive film. The Daft Punk soundtrack is spectacular, providing the right electronic edge for The Grid. The visual effects are a total reboot from the first film. Michael Sheen is on fire as an evil David Bowie dancing his way through an all too brief cameo. The fight scenes are awesome, and the glow in the dark Grid is like an enchanting Tomorrowland wonderland I want to spend more time in. Yet this virtual world lacks depth.

I’ll end this review with a word of warning to directors of the future. Even with the best visual effects, million dollar budgets, and the most advanced studios at your behest, you do not have a movie without a fully realized script. There is a closing conversation between Clu and Kevin that comes to mind. Kevin tells Clu that “there is no perfection” and that the search for it is essentially meaningless. Likewise, you can make a perfect two hours of three dimensional images—but without meaning, intelligence, characterization, and story, those amazing, intricate visuals will never resonate the way they should and will remain but shadows on the screen.

9 responses to “Not Such a Quickie Review: Tron Legacy

  1. In a nutshell: “bad writing, awesome visuals and music”? Yeah, that was my thought exactly. Like, I’m not sorry I saw it, but I’m glad I only paid matinee prices (especially since we happened to get 1 ticket free).

    I will say that Olivia Wilde was probably the brightest, and for me most unexpected, spot in the film. I’ve never seen her in anything else, but I thought she gave a very good, nuanced performance (expressive face!) in spite of the limited narrative she was given to work with.

  2. I really admire your talent for inventing intriguing phrases like “carousel of pretty images.” I never would have thought to use ‘carousel’ to describe the movie. You are so clever.

  3. This is blockbuster… luring the audience with a great marketing strategy. If it makes a fortune in the first couple of days (three-day-weekend) and lures more curious people within the next two weeks — putting butts into seats — voila, they got a hit! But the word-of-mouth finally kills the movie; nevertheless, the money’s already in the box office — that counts!

  4. I’m writing in my thesis about this. Blockbuster = look and sound (just look up its Oscar nominations — mostly for sound and visuals) and independent = story (Best Writing).

    • Sarah, have to say that I agree with you. There’s a great NY Times article about how the new trend this year was less blockbusters, more thinking person’s films (they cite the success of Inception).

  5. Stunning visuals. Perfect soundtrack. Soulless film. Much like the original in its day. Sad that it couldn’t have been more…

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