Tron: Legacy Movie Review (***)

(Originally posted on 12-22-10)

This is a hard movie to review for me. I am seriously conflicted on my feelings here. On one hand it is a shallow rehash of the original with poor acting, lazy 3D, and a overwhelming lack of heart.

On the other hand it is a big budget sequel to Tron!

If I had to list the first movies that come to mind that were formational to me as a youth, it would be made up of a very short list (off the top of my head, quickly: Seven Blows of the Dragon, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Sting, M*A*S*H, Excalibur, and Tron – and really, if you know me personally at all, that should explain a lot).

If there is anything that I have learned in my life, it is that our personal tastes aren’t always based on preferring things of unquestionable quality. Most of the time it is based on degrees of connections to things we loved as kids or that gave us joy when we were down. Flash Gordon? A late show at the theaters with my closest friends and us laughing endlessly through the whole thing after a long day of surviving high school as a drama club nerd? Yes, please. Now a top 10 all-time favorite, even though it is almost impossible to watch all the way through in one sitting any more.

The thought of the original film brings back those same warm fuzzies. Does it hold up today? To be honest, I don’t think I could make a case for it having held up when it was first released, but it was something new that respected the “fantastic” that I loved, rather than dumb it down for the masses. It simultaneously commented on the things that were starting to trickle into the public consciousness with regard to consumer technology, while also rhapsodizing a bit on where we could go. This was all very cool. It was a completely new way to look at our possible future. Did it have a good story, not really. There was a weird and uncomfortable and completely unresolved love triangle straddling both the real world and the virtual one that has always kind left me feeling unsettled.

The name always kind of confused me too – the movie was named after a character that was really mostly secondary to the story, so I always do a mental double take when I remember that the movie in name was about the heroic Bruce Boxleitner character in both worlds. The character journey though was solely Jeff Bridge’s as Kevin Flynn who went from a relatively selfish and unpleasant individual to one with real goals and compassion for those that loved him.

Plus the light cycles were cool.

The new movie? Well…

The Grid seems to be really dusty based on the amount of kick-up that comes from all of the varied vehicles that are trotted out.

The special de-aging effects used to create CLU, the grid version of Kevin Flynn, is awful. A guy in rubber mask would have looked better.

The Iso’s, or Isomorphic Algorhithms, that are introduced in the film pretty much sum up the film overall – it is all potential with no purpose.

There is no integration of our current experience with the socialization of technology.

The central relationship between the two primary characters had no heart.

There is no commentary on us a people.

There is more fanservice bits that reference other movies in the characterizations than there is actual character building.

The acting was stiff.

The 3D was bad.

I don’t think it is near as visionary as the original. It posits almost nothing new, and when it does it only does it in a vague Star Trek: The Next Generation technobabble sort of way. It barely comments on the current state of our relationship with technology. The MacGuffin at the center of the story is the exact definition of a MacGuffin – it is even more ludicrous than unobtainium as a plot motivator. There is no explanation of how the plot device can impact the real world once it makes the jump there from digital space. The specific abilities characters may possess on the grid just will not work in the real world, unless there is some way they can supersede the physical laws that rule us – a thought that is never even broached in the film.

There is a certain fetishization that is happening here with regard to the original – the filmmakers add very little that is new to the lexicon, but really spend time in expanding the design aesthetic, rather than let it grow organically out of a strong story. This is fine for whenever Quora or Gem are onscreen, but a bit tiring at other times. As well, I am not sure why, but the much hyped 3D didn’t impress me at all. I am not sure if it was because of the overall dark/day glow palette that made the image depth so muddy, but I just didn’t feel like it merited the term 3D. Especially after the game changer of the genre that was Avatar.

Don’t get me wrong, I know I am bagging on the movie pretty hard here, but it isn’t a terrible movie. All of the problems that I am discussing are really just me trying to be objective about the film itself, because at the end of the day I really enjoyed it overall, if only because of the connection to those warm fuzzies I get when thinking about the first time I saw the original. A big budget sequel is by far better than a Direct to Video sequel. Or a Glen Larson produced TV series version.

The curse and the blessing of being a fan is that we are willing to overlook glaring problems in things just because Hollywood at least makes an effort to acknowledge that things we love have at least a modicum of value.

I’ve already seen it twice.

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