Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New Release Review: TRON: Legacy (Joseph Kosinski, 2010)

Adopting the mid-December Avatar release slot of 2009, the Walt Disney produced TRON: Legacy is groomed to be the huge blockbuster hit of the 2010/11 Summer season. With first-time director Joseph Kosinski in control, and with Jeff Bridges reprising his role as Kevin Flynn/Clu from the 1982 original film, Legacy promised audiences state of the art Digital 3D visuals and an exciting science-fiction adventure set entirely in a stunning digital dimension. The end result is an impressive visceral assault on the senses with some truly exceptional technical innovations and brilliantly realized visuals, not to mention a killer score from Daft Punk. What is not so amazing is the films' substance, the thin and bizarrely convoluted plot that demands our attention to follow, but then barely manages to hold our interest and also the shallow character interrelations. I had never seen the 1982 Tron, but I'm sure it proves beneficial to understanding what goes on here in the poorly conceived sequel. But for those of us who weren't born for the release of the original, everything is explained here in Legacy. Well, sort of. The seemingly overlong running time can be attributed to a lengthy final act which sets about filling us in on all that is skimmed over during the course of its duration until that point. While it is a fascinating creation, The Grid, Tron: Legacy remains largely inaccessible to almost everyone. 3D/special effects junkies will love it, but for everyone else, there are few exciting moments to justify the admission price. 

Back in 1989, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) was an innovative software designer and the CEO of the successful ENCOM International. He mysteriously disappears without a trace one night leaving his legacy in the possession of his then eight-year-old son, Sam. In the opening sequence of Legacy Flynn is seen sharing with his son bedtime stories of a digital frontier he has named The Grid, a virtual reality set inside his groundbreaking arcade creation, Tron. He tells Sam of two programs he created to help him, one named Clu, a copy of Flynn himself assigned to create the perfect world inside the game whenever Flynn returned to reality, and Tron, who protects The Grid. He promises to one day show Sam the world he speaks of. Twenty years later, Sam (Garrett Hedlund), now an expert hacker and the largest shareholder of ENCOM International, remains troubled by his father's disappearance, but has finally accepted his father's death amidst the rumors that claimed otherwise.

An old associate of Flynn approaches Sam and informs him that he received a mysterious page from a long disconnected number at his father's abandoned arcade. Sam investigates the page, despite his initial reluctance. He discovers a concealed door behind the Tron arcade console that leads to a hidden laboratory in the basement, where he finds some still operating computer equipment. In an attempt to discover what his father was working on last, he activates a mechanism that transports him straight into The Grid. He is captured immediately by militia with glowing orange streaks in their armor and promptly transported to the game arena where he is fitted with combat armor (with blue streaks) and an identity disk (which doubles as a weapon). Sam is thrown into competition having to survive relentless attacks from a number of experienced and dangerous opponents. He manages to survive and eliminate a few opponents before it is discovered that he is in fact a User, and not a 'Program' of the game. He is brought before Clu (a digitally rendered young Jeff Bridges), who subsequently recognizes that he is kin to Flynn and wishes to eliminate him, forcing him to participate in a Light Cycle match opposite himself and several other opponents. This is easily the most spectacular sequence in the film, and it is nothing short of pulse-raising. As Sam and his program allies speed around the multiple level Grid, they must resist their opponents' attacks and take them out with thoughtful tactics. Sam is almost killed by Clu, but is rescued by Quorra (Olivia Wilde), who drives him to an off-the-grid compound occupied by the now elderly Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges at his actual age).

Flynn reveals that the portal to escape The Grid is only opened for a short period, and that Clu had rejected Flynn's introduction of 'Isomorphic Algorithms' in 1989, and had taken complete control of The Grid and had forced Flynn into exile. Legacy really fails to deliver anything original in it's latter half, and typically becomes an escape film, as Flynn, Sam and Quorra try and evade Clu's relentless attempts to gain possession of Flynn's disk (which will surrender complete control over The Grid) and reach the portal in time.

As I mentioned before the visuals are astounding, and Kosinski's team have done a great job in creating this world with effects that rival those found in James Cameron's spectacular Avatar (2009). The fight sequences are complex and jaw-dropping and the neon-soaked costumes are dazzling. While the fluorescent saturated settings are undeniably bleak and the city itself industry-plagued, all is nonetheless beautifully overwhelming to the eye through the 3D. The Light Cycle sequence is the standout for me. When the plot begins to waver, which is pretty often, the film is given a kick by Daft Punk's driving electronic soundtrack that accompanies the action perfectly. The pair make an appearance in the film, and credited as 'the masked DJ's'.

The plot, which remains confusing for much of the film, is thin and convoluted, with minimal character development or chemistry. After a brief introduction to Flynn's creation of The Grid and his adventures within, we are thrown into the life of his son now set twenty years later, as he tries to remain uninvolved in his late father's legacy. Within minutes Sam is thrown into the game after he embarrasses the company CEO with a silly prank, which conveniently coincides with the page from the abandoned arcade. We never really find out anything about the company, or why pushing what he did in the basement, sent him into The Grid. The plot rushes along during the Games sequences, but severely drags in the middle, as we are first introduced to Clu, and then an aged Flynn himself, who has some catching up to do with his son. We also hope that he can tell us what the hell is going on here. A blossoming romance also develops between Sam and Quorra (played well by the lovely Olivia Wilde), which is unnecessary. A tad overlong, much of this is attributed to the final journey to the portal, which I raised earlier.

The characters all seemed to be recycled from other films, with Star Wars providing the most prominent influence. Flynn was a robed combination of Obi-Wan Kenobi (a now useless old man who's wisdom and knowledge is the key to everything) and Bridges own character, The Dude, from The Big Lebowski ("you're really messing with my Zen thing, man"). Also, Tron's decision to turn against Clu at the conclusion reminded me of the Darth Vader/Emperor relationship in Return of the Jedi. Quorra's status within the realm was similar to Sean Young's Replicant character in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and Michael Sheen's camp Zuse character really WAS David Bowie. As for the performances, Garrett Hedlund was wooden, and Jeff Bridges uninteresting. I thought Olivia Wilde was solid, however.
Overall, Tron: Legacy is popcorn fare for the summer and will likely prove to be the biggest blockbuster of the season. Visually you can't fault it, and the soundtrack is excellent. But this is not a fun film at all. It is bleak, odd and confusing, and the plot is diabolical. Still, for CGI enthusiasts, you can't miss it in I-Max or V-Max.

My Rating: 2 1/2 Stars

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