Posted by Nick Ondras on December 18, 2010 at 3:50 pm
In July we saw a movie with a massive brain stuffed with big ideas, and that was Inception. From beginning, to middle and finally to end it was clearly structured as a three-part film. And I shan’t waste more than two sentences relating Tron: Legacy (I’m supposed to capitalize something there…), Disney’s tentpole holiday visual, to something I love and hold to my heart so immensely. Legacy is a surprisingly small-brained spectacle built on nothing (just try finding a copy of the 1982 original, hotshot) and which panders to no one. There are probably four clear parts where this is made noticeable to the viewer, which is as well as I can divide the movie into parts with a complete start and a finish. Truth is, Tron: Legacy dazzles for about 20 minutes, and that’s before they’ve even entered the Matrix-like “Grid” world.
Even an inkling of ‘82’s Tron, made popular for the 20th century from a YouTube parody video and a brief reference on Family Guy, wouldn’t help you better understand its sequel. The opening half-hour finds 20-something Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), creator of a videogame based on his past experience in the Grid, searching to better understand the reasons behind his pop’s vanishing. It jumps in pretty quickly, as did the original Tron. But once the latter film got started its wits came out, and what followed was a technical blast from an adventure ahead of its time. (Those graphics? Watered down, sure; but man oh man, what a trip of distortion.) Maybe that’s what has Tron: Legacy trip in the other sense of the word so early on; it was sort of buzzed as the next Avatar, but when it comes down to it this movie isn’t doing anything new. When it wants to hark back to something that happened in the past, director Joseph Kosinski lowers the camera to face the floor, and over a grainy lens the backstory is played.
I can see how Disney would have had a great relationship with this – the first Tron, as it’s so obviously clear, exists in a world of pure creation. That’s what made anything animated from Snow White to last month’s Tangled really move. The visuals of Tron: Legacy are frisky, but eventually have it seem as if the entire movie was taking place on the floor of closet someone’s recently closed. In the Grid, everyone’s oblivious to the outside world except for Sam, called as Kevin once was before reinventing his tech dynasty, a “user”. We, the audience, on the other hand, are not. Tron can’t expect to be embraced just because it exists and we’re there to bear witness. In the style of Bridges’ Kevin: where’s the investment, man? Or in that of Sam’s, why the hell am I here?
Tron gets interesting when Olivia Wilde’s Quorra and Clu, a clone of Bridges bent on total recall of the Grid, are introduced, and the movie stops chasing its tail in slow-motion and gets things heated. Quorra has shacked up with Kevin in a meditative dream world the Dude would abide, ignoring the gladiatorial battles during which he accidentally meets Sam, and letting his world go to the pits. But Sam, he sees something better. As he comes on the sight of his lost father, Hedlund scrunches his face and manages a tear without even blinking. Once the exposition’s all dried up, it feels like the movie was contrived from an idea better and smarter than it really turns out to be. If ‘82’s Tron were The Matrix, Legacy is its sequels – uncalled for, tracing the mold left for it and no longer dreaming.