A solid legacy to build on
Tron: Legacy is a hard movie to review overall. If I could review it in pieces then it would be easy to say the first third is amazing, the middle is okay, and the last third is bad. The characters that are actually used are good, but their interactions rarely fit the current mood.
It's like the movie mapped out all its concepts well but the sum of its parts is actually less impressive than its foundation's static shards. Kind of like a jigsaw puzzle with spectacular looking pieces, but none of them ever fit together with any other pieces so it's hard to appreciate it in the end. The result is enjoying the ride it takes you on, but after leaving the theater the truth starts to sink in: the movie actually wasn't that great.
Even though I'm the kind of guy you'd expect to have seen Tron dozens of times, I've regrettably never seen the original. Walking into its sequel I was really hoping I would be bought and sold by the world it introduced me to, and I can honestly say that the first thirty minutes are so entertaining and immersive that I was obsessed with every detail and fully drinking the Tron hype.
One of my biggest desires of the movie industry is to make more films where someone is dropped into a bizarre world that’s completely strange to the audience so that we’re on the same page as the main character while we figure out the world together. For that reason, I can’t stress enough that the nonstop motion and curiosities unraveling in the first third is so immersive and convincing that I was enthralled by everything. After a brief real world introduction everything is shown to us – not told. Cyber frisbee jai alai is just as new to Sam Flynn (Garret Hedlund) as it is to us, and it’s awesome to see him try to both understand the rules and survive essentially a boss fight even though he just started playing this bizarre game. Immediately after this is another ten minute game that introduces fantastic light cycles – motorcycles that leave walls behind their trail to crash enemies – and the whole time you’ll be holding your breath and the real world will completely melt away.
I love that Hedlund was picked for Sam despite his resume listing lots of film duds, because he was the perfect pick for a rich orphaned son with no social life who is inexplicably cool and lets everything slide off his shoulders. I love that he loves reckless motorcycle driving in the real world and that we don’t need some unrealistic chase scene with quick camera cuts to prove it. Jeff Bridges returns to his role as Kevin Flynn and Clu after all these years, and after the twenty minute os nonstop action we're finally introduced to Quorra (Olivia Wilde) in a great scene. At this point it slows down and we're finally able to take a breath, but the sadly movie never regained my full adoration from then on.
I absolutely love how Quorra’s this amazingly sexy cyber chick with skills to back up her looks, yet acts like she’s an early teen who’s still childish, goofy, innocent, and has tons of questions about the real world outside of Tron. I also like how Kevin Flynn’s personality has changed to that of a yoga loving mild zen hippy after a decade of being trapped in Tron’s isolation. They’re all great characters, but when they finally start to all interact it doesn't elevate anyone. The dinner scene where they reunite and play catchup is fine but from here on it's like the years of separation never occurred and the director (Joseph Kosinski) and screenplay hiccups start to pop up. Then there’s a superb bar scene shortly after in town that has an excellent Matrix feel to it and introduces Michael Sheen as an incredibly memorable character that looks and feels like A Clockwork Orange had sex with Alice in Wonderland's screenplay. To make this scene even more fun, there’s a delicious cameo by Daft Punk as the DJs.
Everything else in the last half after this is done wrong. The characters submit to an incredibly simple plot: all we have to do is get from point A to point B as fast as we can, yet they move incredibly slow. No more exploration of the environments or culture within the world. There's a train station and a sea and some more towers that look like all the other towers but it all looks the same over and over. An army is being built but both them and the villain don't work hard to instill any fear in the last hour at all. The three main characters continue to not mesh in any memorable ways and I don't mind that Kevin becomes nothing more than a one-liner machine, but the other characters don't carry the plot's weight -- it's just all about getting from one point to another.
By the end of the movie it's like we've only explored six rooms in the entire environment leaving me with dozens of questions about the world and its inhabitats. It's great to leave a lot up to our imagination, but it didn't answer nearly enough. I don't even know what a normal day in Tron is like by the end. If it's meant to be a buggy, hollow beta world then show broken architecture and glitchy corners and use them in the plot. To just try to fill the void with Daft Punk's soundtrack that awesomely fit every scene doesn't cut it.
Quorra is really the only character who changes by the end, leaving us no one else to care about. The villain squandered his dictator potential and should have taken notes from BioShock. Even worse is that the resolution of the father and son makes very little sense and brings up even new complaints about the rest of Tron's world mechanics. More importantly though, for a movie named Tron: Legacy, the character Tron is only given three terrible five second scenes. He could and should have been far more involved, which would have been a great tool for further exploring the virtual landscape that feel so hollow when looking back on the film.
If you're interested in the 3D experience then Matt's review will be a great aid, though I've got to say I wasn't nearly as impressed as he was. As for my final score, the first half deserves far higher and the last half deserves far lower, so I met it somewhere in the middle.
8.40 -- Great. A mind-melting sci-fi action light show with light cycles and disc battles aplenty, TRON: Legacy delivers everything most moviegoers could want from a TRON film - and it boasts a fantastic musical score to boot. You can read his full review here!
7.70 -- Good. Tron: Legacy might let people who have been constructing a deep and meaningful story behind the franchise down, but for anyone looking to see some amazing action and stunning special effects this movie is going to deliver. See it in IMAX 3D if you can. You can read his full review here!