You're messing with my zen, man...
by TRON UNIT
28 years, 161 days later, Tron's legacy lives on. Joe Kosinski's understated long-awaited sequel to Steven Lisberger's game changing electronic mythos is a visual triumph, a world unlike anything we've ever seen before, transforming the iconography of its predecessor into an awesome 3D spectacle, but it is an imperfect world, its breathtaking three dimensions propped upon the two dimensional pillars of its problematic plot and one that would be looked upon with the consternations of its biggest adversary who, ironically, is the one who nearly completely undermines and very nearly derezzes it… Clu.
The film's biggest special effect is also its biggest failure. The technology that I had hoped would be the promise of taking Tron once again to a new revolutionary cinematic level and breaking new technical ground in much the same way as the original film had ushered in a new era at the dawn of the digital film making frontier cannot raise the bar set by its own ambition and demonstrates that we still have quite a ways to go before digital actors can convincingly look indistinguishable from real human performers. The CGI animation used to make Jeff Bridges look 20 years younger metaphorically resemble the poor prosthetic makeup of a cheap rubber mask and rendered like cut-scenes from its video game counterpart Tron: Evolution. Having watched numerous films starring Bridges throughout his career I can tell you that he did not look at all like his poorly rendered doppelganger at that age. The eyes, the brows, the cheekbones, and the mouth have an unconvincing artificiality about them that betrays the illusion and takes us out of this fantastic visual world and Bridges raspy aged voice also betrays the effect. In a creepy sort of way it almost works for the character within the context of the story because he is supposed to be an artificial construct and we can almost buy that he doesn't look quite like a real human being, but during the film's opening scenes when we see Bridges in flashback playing younger Kevin Flynn telling bedtime stories to his son, Sam, it robs the moment between a father and his son of its already forced sincerity and dehumanizes it in a cold and unsettling way.
The plot is almost video-game like in its objective as the competing faction of Clu's militaristic forces must obtain elder Flynn's identity disc which is a master key to unlock the door to our world so that he and his army can take it over. It is never explained how exactly virtual programs existing in the digital world can somehow manifest themselves into tangible living matter in our physical world just as it does not attempt to explain why a User like Sam can bleed in its digital realm other than the fact he is simply a User and "he's different," nor does it attempt to explain how Kevin Flynn has aged 20 years trapped in his digital confinement when theoretically he shouldn't have physically aged at all as a digital avatar of himself. Narratively it misses the opportunity to explore such philosophical questions and complex idioms of science fiction as it so masterfully eluded to in the film's promising test trailer shown at Comic Con and either completely ignores or avoids those questions it raises and is the other major disappointment of the film. The original Tron explored such intriguing philosophical ideas around the religious beliefs of its programs and their creators but Tron Legacy's most astonishing revelation delivered by Alan when he tells Sam that his father was about to change science, medicine and religion in such a profound way is simply thrown away in a single line of expository dialogue. We never learn the real reason why Flynn created this world in the first place other than the fact that it was far out biodigital jazz, man.
Once again Jeff Bridges is the cement that holds the foundations of the Troniverse together solely with his strength and conviction of his performance as zen guru cyber-Jesus Flynn to his Judas megalomaniacal alter-ego Clu in some sort of virtual yin and yang. Garret Hedlund is surprisingly likeable as his son, Sam. Thankfully, he's no wooden Hayden Christiansen (although he would have made a much better Anakin Skywalker) and plays the cliched angst-ridden rebellious youth with convincingly noble admiration. Reciprocally, Olivia Wilde plays the character of Quorra with a truthful childlike innocence and wonder that demonstrates she has more to offer as an actress than just luscious fanboy eyecandy. Michael Sheen livens the film with his jestly rendition of David Bowie circa glam rock era Ziggy Stardust. And once again Bruce Boxleitner returns as Alan Bradley aka Tron… sort of. After all it's called TRON Legacy, right? Though, like the first film, the story is centered around Flynn's character and his legacy of which Tron is merely incidental to. The enigmatic character of Rinzler is Clu's badass henchman, one part Darth Maul wielding two discs, and one part Boba Fett as a mysterious tracker whose helmeted identity is concealed and it doesn't take half a nerd to figure out who he is.
As a 3D film Tron Legacy works perfectly in most part because its illuminated electronic visuals naturally lends itself to creating brightly rendered 3D images which has been the downfall of all other 3D films. Tron Legacy is by far the real Avatar. It makes the world of Pandora look like a cartoon by comparison. It's a place I would want to visit again because it is unlike anything seen in our world or any other. The brilliantly 3D rendered Disney logo showcasing the Magic Kingdom "Tronified" is appropriately memorable for setting the tone of the film which is then 2D until Sam is transported into Tron's colorful three dimensional illuminated world like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. As a first-time director Joe Kosinski proves that he has the technical prowess to design a fully immersive world much like Ridley Scott did with Alien and Blade Runner but his weakness is marshaling a cohesive script equally as interesting to support it, but then again the original Tron, to be fair, didn't have a strong script to support it either so in that sense they are both equal in that they are both great visual spectacles but lack any real cohesive structure and substance. The numerous homages to the original film are carefully and cleverly handled, however the cascade of homages to other sci-fi films like 2001, Blade Runner and Star Wars seem almost out of place in Tron's world. I could have done without the banal Lucasian dialogue of the Light Jet sequence with lines like "Here they come" and "I got him!" without expecting the next line to deliver a "Great kid! Don't get cocky!"
As a fan of the original Tron I am torn. Part of me is protective of its mythos and at the same time heartbroken that what was once a unique, groundbreaking film has now been rendered obsolete by its own sequel that has taken the technology and improved upon it in nearly every visual way. The Lighcycle and Disc Wars sequences, for example, are spectacularly exhilarating and render the graphics in the original film relics of the Atari age by comparison and why Disney has wisely kept the original film hidden away in its vaults and not releasing it on Blu-Ray yet. Fortunately as a sequel it delivers without the bitter disappointment of something like Star Wars or Indiana Jones. It's no Phantom Menace or Crystal Skull, thank God, but it's not the potentially epic masterpiece it could have been either but rather just another tent-pole blockbuster special effects film. If it performs well there will no doubt be more Tron films that confident Disney has stated they already have in development along with an animated TV show but as a film Tron Legacy can stand on its own without them but should there be would require the participation of Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner to make them work if they have any chance at all of succeeding. Without them, it wouldn't be a Tron film at all. Tron lives. He fights for the Users.
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