Sunday, December 19, 2010

Movie Review: "Tron: Legacy"

What makes a good movie? There are usually a few mental boxes you check when you tally up whether or not you liked a particular movie. Like most people my boxes have a descending order of importance--your mix may vary. The top of my list is all about the story. Does the plot make sense? Is it unique or does it rely on well-used characterizations as shorthand for honest-to-goodness character development? And, most importantly, do I connect to it? Visuals usually are somewhere at the middle-to-the-bottom of my list depending on how they're used in a movie. If the shaky-cam variety of filming is heavily featured, it can bump up the importance of the visuals in a negative way thanks to its headache-inducing properties. Good visuals, as in "Avatar," can certainly help overcome a wobbly script, but there are limits to what good scenery can do, and I think Tron: Legacy overestimated what stunning visual effects can accomplish for a film.

When the original "Tron" came out in 1982 video games were in their infancy compared to what we play today. Pac Man was fun and revolutionary for its time, and certainly a big step up from Pong, but a bare shadow of the technology we enjoy now. Video game enthusiasts embraced "Tron," both as a game and a movie though audiences that didn't identify themselves as part of that culture were less enthralled. I don't think this "Tron" will have a different, or as long lasting, legacy than the original.

Set pretty much in real time, "Tron: Legacy" picks up some twenty years after the original movie left off. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), the hero from the first movie, disappeared soon after after taking over as CEO of ENCOM and has been missing for the last twenty years. His son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is the presumptive heir-to-the throne as the largest shareholder of ENCOM, but has turned into the predictable thrill-seeking rebel we've seen a hundred times since Batman. He even base-jumps off of skyscrapers! How...been there, done that.

When Kevin's old friend and co-worker Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) receives a page from Kevin, Sam goes to an abandoned arcade that belonged to Kevin to investigate. Finding an old passageway, behind the Tron game naturally, Sam finds Kevin's old computer and with just a few keystrokes finds himself on The Grid-- the virtual world that exists inside the Tron game.

Sam is immediately captured by a sentry program and thrown into the gladiatorial games in a sequence that primarily exists to show off the neon orange and white glow of the Grid and introduce the audience to Clu-- Kevin Flynn's virtual alter ego. Clu, a digitally altered version of Jeff Bridges, is both impressive and slightly disjointed. The virtual character is mostly convincing but when he speaks he's just a tiny bit off and it's enough to pull you out of the movie once in a while. But that's all distraction as the ultimate goal is to find Kevin Flynn and reunite father and son after twenty years apart. Thanks to a beautiful program named Quorra (Olivia Wilde), who conveniently comes to Sam's rescue in the games just in time to prevent the dreaded "derezzing" that amounts to death in the Grid, Sam finally gets to find out where his father has been his whole life.

"Tron: Legacy" is essentially a movie for fans of the original and/or people who like lots of bright lights and loud noises. It is visually striking but it doesn't take long for the novelty to wear off because there is only so much than can be done with a color scheme that mainly consists of black, white and orange. Fans will undoubtedly enjoy the Light Cycles and Light Jets (as will the marketing department at Disney) but cool vehicles just can't overcome a poorly conceived plot that struggles to find meaning within a soulless video game.

The biggest issue for me was trying to connect to the characters. Kevin Flynn is a strangely passive guy who has been entirely too content to bide his time in an off-Grid abode that seems right out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. He seems to be going for a Zen sort of thing, but leaves you with the feeling that he just didn't have the guts to try to get the heck out of the game. Hedlund does what he can with Sam and I liked him well enough, but the character was just too cliché to be truly interesting. Wilde brings an appeal to her character that goes beyond what's written on the page, but I still couldn't dredge up any concern over what happened to her one way or another. The only person who owns the screen for any length of time is Michael Sheen, whose turn as a glam-rock club owner steals a bit from David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, and I found myself wishing he could have been our on-screen villain instead of the lifeless Clu. It should also be mentioned that the original Tron character makes an appearance, but it seemed to be more of an obligatory addition rather than anything that adds any substance to the plot.

Everything that doesn't matter about "Tron: Legacy" is given the most weight. The imagery, while striking, get monotonous after awhile and the sound-- oh my goodness... Can I take a moment to mention how freaking loud the backing audio was? It was like the sound mixer had just discovered the synthesizer and thought it was the coolest thing in the world. It boomed throughout the whole film in a barrage of sound that frequently overwhelmed the dialog and did little more than further distance the audience from the action on screen. My kids spent most of the movie with their hands over their ears-- I tried that too but found that there was no good way to block the pounding sound effects and still hear what the characters were saying. If my summary of the movie is off, it's because I couldn't hear what anyone was saying. (For the record the theater manager tried to adjust the sound but couldn't do a whole lot with it.)

I've read enough reviews of this movie to know that there will be a segment of fans who just aren't going to read a negative review with any objectivity-- and that's fine. If you want to love "Tron: Legacy" be my guest. But this movie was not one of those that worked for me. My mental checklist ended up mostly blank after enduring a sensory pummeling and a three hour headache. Add to that a general lack of plot and character development and a dues-ex-machina moment or two, and you get a movie that I really can't recommend.


Jim Haley said...

So, I haven't gotten to see this movie yet (but I am planning on it) and I'm definitely the type of fan who's going to enjoy it no matter what - but I'm disappointed to see the majority of reviews have expressed similar points to yours Theresa... but (if I was to quote "you had me at Hello") you lost me at "Good visuals, as in "Avatar," can certainly help overcome a wobbly script,"... no - not even good visuals could help Avatar. I'm sorry, that movie was just a complete bore.

mcgriffmusings said...

This was the second review I've read about this movie and the first one wasn't a good review either! I remember Tron orginally though I'm not a die hard fan and when I saw the initial previews of this movie, I had a feeling it was going to rely heavily on the visuals like Avatar did. I enjoyed Avatar because I was going in there expecting the visuals to outweigh the storyline. So since this movie seems to do the same thing, I'll save my money and get this one on DVD!

Charles Gramlich said...

I have a feeling that once I see the light cycles and go "cool," that I'll be looking around for something else to watch.

SQT said...

Jim-- I didn't care for "Avatar" either. But nearly everyone I know did. When I get into my but.. but mode and try to explain why it's not that good, they go into raptures over how beautiful it was. So I have to give "Avatar" credit for winning most people over with how pretty it looks. It's been a disappointment for me to see how many of my friends are the looook...pretty picture kind of moviegoer.

SQT said...

McGriff-- I knew "Avatar" wasn't going to work for me. My biggest thing now is to try and not diss it because I know so many other people like it. It's hard because I just don't care for a lot of the pop-culture that is so big right now-- like "Twilight." But I think I can safely comment on "Tron" because I don't think it has quite the same audience. And I'm not trying to disrespect what it's trying to do. I'm just wishing they had done it better.

Charles-- That's how we felt. Honestly, I wouldn't have finished it (thanks to the overwhelming audio) if we hadn't taken our son for his birthday.

Warren said...

I have to agree with your negative comments. The film makers think the flash is everything and that the story and the characters don't count for much. A loud, bad exercise.
Warren P.

mahinderk said...

Weak. Weak story. Weak 3D. Light cycles were pretty cool. Olivia Wilde was hot. Fight scenes were so so.I can watch tron legacy online here Seeing it once was quite enough. I loved the original. This should have been so much more.…

Maurice Mitchell said...

Yeah, this movie is good not great. Worth watching though.