Tron Legacy

I never thought I could get tired of the color black. Thanks to Tron Legacy, I never want to see it again, which is unfortunate since my wardrobe is based on it.

This is one of those movies where it’s easier to talk about what went right. There’s a lot, actually.

  1. Garrett Hedlund and Jeff Bridges give performances as realistic and convincing as the material allows. There’s one scene where they get to talk as father and son about real-world events, and it actually kind of works.
  2. Michael Sheen has three things in common with Jeremy Irons: he’s a fine actor, he gives me the creeps, and he knows when to ham it up in a bad fantasy movie. I hate to say it but his fey bleached-out Ziggy Stardust act is as much fun as this movie gets.
  3. Bruce Boxleitner doesn’t get much to do, but it’s always nice to see his face.
  4. Olivia Wilde is pretty. So are the other women in the movie. So is Garrett Hedlund, but then I’ve known that since Troy.
  5. Though the movie can’t seem to decide whether de-rezzing now means breaking into tiny hailstones like sugar glass or splattering translucently all over the floor, both effects are very nice to look at.
  6. After the initial nonsense about how the new Encom OS should be released for free, the movie is rarely actively embarrassing, and insofar as it is logical at all, it’s a reasonably logical extension of the original.

Unfortunately these pieces don’t add up to anything worthwhile, or more importantly, enjoyable.

I won’t waste a lot of your time discussing the meaning of the film, though I should because it really asks for it. Kevin Flynn has become a sort of Zen hermit at the top of a mountain, playing Go with his apprentice and teaching her Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Nietzche, and Verne. She’s apparently a spontaneously generated artificial life form and the future of humanity, a charming enough idea that’s only stated and never explored. She has less personality than many of the programs that users wrote, so that can’t be what’s special about her. Meanwhile Flynn’s software clone and former proxy, Clu, has become a dictator with a nebulous agenda of achieving “the perfect system,” which apparently means forcing programs to play games until they die, wiping out the a-life, and making bombastic speeches to a bunch of other programs before taking them into the real world. Flynn tells Clu he can’t achieve perfection because he doesn’t really understand what it is (because Flynn didn’t either at the time he wrote Clu — another interesting idea that doesn’t go anywhere else), and the problem is that neither do we; it just looks like any other cartoon dictatorship we’ve seen in a thousand movies, including this one’s superior antecedent.

The original Tron delivered solid entertainment. It had appealing characters with accessible personalities (both inside and outside the computer, often with the same faces in what I’m only realizing at this moment was totally a Wizard of Oz homage), a fabulous and memorable score, gorgeous luminescent visuals, a sense of humor (sorely lacking in the sequel save for a precious few moments), a sense of honor and decency and principle (remember when Flynn refuses to kill his opponent? Notice how his son never hesitates?), and a simple but effective plot. You didn’t have to look for meaning in the “throw the Christians to the lions” allegory to have fun.

With this one, I was hoping for fun, but would have settled for deep. Unfortunately I got neither. Hell, I would have settled for beautiful, but the soundtrack was largely dull (but then I think Daft Punk are overrated — they’re no Wendy Carlos, clearly) and so were the visuals. At one point Sam is supposed to marvel at what his dad’s created, but what’s worth marveling at? The programs with personalities were there the very first time Kevin Flynn entered this world, and as far as I can tell all he’s done is redecorate — exchanging bright for dim, imperial Rome for (maybe?) China & Tibet, and a pleasant well-designed adventure story for a gloomy poorly-told philosophical squib, as faceless as its interchangeable CGI adversaries.