TRON: Legacy (United States, 2010)

December 14, 2010
A movie review by James Berardinelli
TRON: Legacy Poster

Seen in IMAX 3-D.

They had 28 years, and this is the best they could come up with?

It's not that TRON: Legacy is a complete failure. It's just that one has a right to expect a little more from a sequel this long in the making. The original TRON employed an interesting and (at the time) unique aesthetic to tell a story that was as much about ideas as it was about anything else. TRON: Legacy, however, is a straightforward science fiction action film. The narrative may be stronger than that of the 1982 production but, except for a few half-hearted allusions to Frankenstein (which are less obvious than the nods to Star Wars), there's not much interesting going on here. The movie looks cool and the action sequences are effectively rendered but, ironically, this TRON feels more like a video game than its predecessor.

Two actors return from TRON - Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner. The former is accorded a fair amount of screen time with his dual role as the megalomaniacal villain and the Jedi-like mentor to the new hero. Boxleitner, however, is pushed to the side. He makes a few appearances early in the proceedings as Alan Bradley, then largely disappears. Fans of his cyberspace alter-ego will be disappointed, since Tron is afforded little more than a cameo. One gets the sense that the only reason Tron is in the movie is because it wouldn't make sense to use the moniker "TRON" in the title and leave the character out altogether.

When the story opens, it's 2010. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), the hero of TRON, has been missing for two decades, having disappeared shortly after claiming a major breakthrough in his work within cyberspace. His son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund), grows up without parents. Upon reaching adulthood, as the primary shareholder of ENCON, Sam has the right to take an active role in the company, but he is not interested in attending board meetings or becoming CEO. He has given up his father for dead, despite assertions from longtime family friend Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) that all may not be as it seems. When Alan receives what appears to be a message from Flynn, Sam goes to Flynn's Arcade to investigate and is accidentally transported into cyberspace. There, he discovers a universe ruled by Flynn's alter-ego, Clu (also Bridges), a cruel dictator who is opposed only by Flynn and his protégé, Quorra (Olivia Wilde). Sam joins forces with his father to find the way home and prevent Clu from crossing to the real world.

TRON: Legacy's storyline lacks ambition, resorting to the hackneyed cliché of the power-mad ruler seeking to eliminate his lone enemy and finding new territories to conquer. Flynn, saddled with the responsibility of having programming Clu with the single-minded need to create perfection, has become a recluse. Tron is M.I.A. for most of the proceedings, and his absence is not effectively filled by the willowy Quorra or the androgynous Zuse (Michael Sheen), who bears more than a passing resemblance to John Hurt's Caligula in I, Claudius. The film's ending follows the expected trajectory, with the last big confrontation playing out as one might anticipate. From start to finish, this movie's adherence to by-the-numbers screenwriter meant that it held no surprises for me.

From a visual standpoint, it can be said that TRON: Legacy makes decent use of 3-D, although it's significantly less immersive here than in Avatar. At least the 3-D scenes were filmed in 3-D and not converted. The images are still dark, but cyberspace is presented as a gloomy place (there's no sun), so it's fitting. For the most part, the 3-D is subtle enough to be unnecessary. The real-world scenes at the beginning and end were filmed (and are presented) in full color 2-D, to create a contrast with the cyberspace sequences which, in addition to being in 3-D, rarely show much in the way of color beyond black, white, and red.

The "look" of cyberspace has changed dramatically since TRON, and shows the influence of how virtual reality has evolved in productions like Dark City and The Matrix. There are various homages to the original, including cars zipping around tracks leaving trails behind them and discs that can be thrown at opponents to de-res them. The graphical improvements evident in TRON: Legacy make it seem more like a distant relative to the original TRON than a direct descendant. Still, even though it's not as cutting edge as its predecessor, TRON: Legacy is cool to absorb.

Jeff Bridges, fresh off his Oscar win, plays both an Obi-Wan-inspired Flynn and a youngish Clu. The computer de-aging process that shaves 20 years off Bridges' features also leaves him looking a little waxy and unreal, which is perfect for Clu. Bruce Boxleitner receives a similar dual treatment, although Tron isn't on screen for long enough for us to get a good look. Alan appears surprisingly old; I found myself wondering when Sheridan's hair had turned white. Garrett Hedlund, wearing his cockiness like a badge, is abrasive at times and his ability to convey emotions convincingly is limited. Olivia Wilde brings a mixture of innocence and sexiness to her role as a daughter of cyberspace, although avenues that might have been explored in an R-rated script are left untouched here.

The action scenes are well choreographed. They are numerous and include an updated version of the car race from TRON and an aerial dogfight. Arguably the highest octane sequence occurs early, with Sam being provided with a rude introduction to the cyberspace games. In some ways, this production is true to the '80s roots of its predecessor in that it derives most of its value from action and special effects. TRON delivered those things while offering more - it had a vision of the future and a cautionary message to go along with it. TRON: Legacy is grounded in the present, with little concern for what was or what is to come. It's eye candy, a passing diversion. Disney wants this to be The Next Big Motion Picture Event, but it's hard to imagine a movie as ultimately superficial as TRON: Legacy achieving that goal.

TRON: Legacy (United States, 2010)

Director: Joseph Kosinski
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, Michael Sheen
Screenplay: Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Cinematography: Claudio Miranda
Music: Daft Punk
U.S. Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Run Time: 2:07
U.S. Release Date: 2010-12-17
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1