Oh the humanity! How can a movie that looks so cool be such frustratingly bad sci-fi? I recently re-watched the first TRON movie. Its blue-screen effects and geometric designs were groundbreaking at the time, but definitely feel dated now (though the light-cycle scenes hold up pretty well). However, it’s the ideas about technology that truly embalm the original movie in the 80s. Essentially, all the characters were metaphoric representations of computer programs and how they interact. It took place before the reality of virtual environments and movies like The Matrix gave us a whole new understanding of what was real and what was computer-generated. My biggest problem with TRON Legacy is that the real world of computers, and the imaginary world of science fiction, have both moved ahead so far in almost three decades, but the makers of this movie decided that they wouldn’t bother to acknowledge that other than to use CGI as a tool to make things a lot snazzier looking. What is this 2nd generation virtual universe supposed to represent? Are they all just programs interacting? Do they have feelings? Is it all still a metaphor for what goes on inside a computer? If not, why are the characters doing what they’re doing? Unfortunately viewers are left with a story full of logical gaps and nonsense that just can’t be painted over with a mere coating of blacks and neons.
In the time between the two movies, Kevin Flynn, hero of the first movie, became Encom’s CEO and disappeared altogether. Now his grown son, Sam, is summoned by a mysterious message on a pager back to his father’s arcade where his sticky fingers get him sent to the virtual world where his father has been (courtesy of the unsung magic of that same dusty old laser from the first film). Surprisingly the sequel follows a very similar story path to the original. Outsider hero arrives in the digital universe, is sent to compete in some gladiator games, then to the light-cycle competition where he escapes and tries to get to a target destination in order to overthrow or destroy the main bad guy. It’s an archetypal sci-fi plot: flashy hero fights to overthrow the would-be merciless tyrant.
Jeff Bridges is back as Kevin Flynn, both as a computer version of himself (de-aged by the power of CGI, which still looks a lot like a video game character to me) and his regular old self who (for some reason) appears his normal age but dressed in white as some kind of digital guru (kind of like a futuristic version of The Dude), spouting off most of the movie’s ridiculous proto-philosophy. None of it really matters, since the rules of the digital realm (a.k.a. The Grid) are only there long enough to propel some plot point before something happens to invalidate them. You really shouldn’t bother to suss them all out.
Garrett Hedlund isn’t bad as Sam, catching the eyes of the fembot waiting-women who help him change into black and neon attire appropriate for The Grid. His main skill is really just running and jumping, along with Olivia Wilde, as Quorra, an ally in The Grid who helps Sam reach his goal to stop the bad guy. The only good things I can talk about are the sights and sounds of this movie. The Daft Punk soundtrack is great: part retro electronica, part moody background atmospherics that really add grandeur to the dark, digital world. Visually, the black and neon colour scheme of pretty much everything in The Grid actually works. There’s a proto-Zen purity to this style that looks unquestioningly futuristic and unique. The action sequences are also pretty amazing, especially the gladiator games and the light-cycle competition. Here we can see how CGI has helped this movie. From the gravity-defying, perspective-shifting combat of the light-disc battle, to the smooth, quick slickness of seeing the light-cycles maneuver, all of it was sci-fi geek eye-candy (except for artificially-young Bridges).
I guess that is why I’m so torn by this movie. My eyes want me to say “See this movie”, but my brain wants me to warn you away. You decide who you want to listen to (3.5 out of 5)