Tron: Legacy opens with a text crawl, but the words don’t tell us about the secret construction of an ultimate weapon, nor about the retirement of androids: instead, we are told that parts of the movie are presented in 2D because they were shot that way, but that we should keep our glasses on for the entirety regardless.
It’s the most inspiring crawl I’ve seen for a good many years.
In 1989, Encom CEO Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) goes missing. 21 years later, his son Sam (Garret Hedlund) accidentally shoots himself into The Grid, Flynn’s life work. The Grid has been taken over by Clu (CG Jeff Bridges), who values perfection above everything. Sam teams up with Quorra (Olivia Wilde) and charges himself with finding his father and escaping.
Tron: Legacy is initially amazing, especially for someone who didn’t actually like the original very much at all. So much is “right on”, from the Daft Punk score to the amazing aesthetic, until you realise that none of it is really going anywhere much. The film seems almost as if it’s trying to synthesise Blade Runner inside a computer, but the few glimpses we see of the city offer very little beyond that: the initial impressiveness gives way to the dull ache of over-familiarity and potential left unexplored.
We’re supposed to get the impression that the Grid has a rich history, but really all that happens is some programs are set against each other in the games, and there’s a night club. In terms of citizens there’s a homeless program, and that’s all we’re allowed to see. Much as it pains me to say it, there’s actually a stronger sense of a dystopia in the original Tron. It’s probably not surprising that a city run by a perfectionist computer program is bland and sterile, but not even the few members of a half-hearted (and unexplored) resistance can bring themselves to care enough.
Characterisation is thin: Clu’s “evil scheme” motivated by … nothing readily apparent to the audience. Bridges is zen as Flynn, but one could be forgiven for thinking that he wanders the Grid in a bathrobe as the Dude. He’s the heart of the film, and Hedlund tries his hardest as Sam, but there’s really not that much for him to do. Wilde’s Quorra is by turns cute and just weird-quirky-annoying, almost like a raven haired Ariel.
There’s a certain awkwardness to the character that is borne out by Wilde herself rather than the script. Quorra acts as a bizarre lever to the father and son story, meaning that Flynn and Sam never quite manage to bond in a way that is satisfactory to the audience. The characters are underwritten rather than under performed. Strangely for a movie of this type there isn’t a surfeit of exposition getting in the way: if anything, the audience isn’t told enough, and is certainly never given a chance to invest themselves.
A little bit of life is injected late into the piece by Michael Sheen’s inexplicably glam dissident club owner (whose function is disturbingly reminiscent of The Matrix Reloaded’s Merovingian). If you want to see a platinum blonde Tony Blair gambolling about a night club with a gun cane, then you’ve come to the right place. Sadly, all of this ends too soon, and Sheen is casually tossed aside like so much else in the film.
Action wise, the film has maybe three set pieces, and they’re not that interesting: what you have to realise is that, while parts of the movie are visually entrancing, a film shot entirely in shades of blue, black, orange, white and red viewed through tinted 3D glasses can take its toll on the eyes and brain. It’s helpful that the film has colour coded the good guys as blue/white and the bad as red/orange, but it’s nearly impossible to tell who is who beyond that – or to care. Sam is thrown into two of the three action pieces with no warning and no idea of what he’s doing. He’s adaptable, but the idea of the User versus the Program is severely undernourished. The final set piece is an airborne rehash of the second one, and by that point the movie has taken such a long time you just want it to be over.
Perhaps the best way to explain Tron: Legacy is that it shows so much promise initially that by the end you can’t help noticing that none of them have actually been delivered on. With so many great ideas, it’s a shame that Tron: Legacy decides against capitalising on most of them, its initially dizzying highs gradually replaced by a placid trip on an aerial tramway: don’t look down or you’ll see that there’s nothing underneath you. Nothing at all.