17 December 2010


There is actually a sequel to Tron. And it comes almost three decades after the release of the original. We are now in a realm where all things are possible, and there's nothing Grid-like about it. I saw Tron for the first time yesterday evening, right before catching a midnight screening of Tron: Legacy. I may profess myself disappointed by Tron, but believe me, it's got nothing on the sequel as a sheer letdown.

The sequel picks up with Kevin Flynn having taken his company Encom to its peak after the ending of the first film, but then he disappears, leaving his young son Sam behind, all alone. Flash forward two decades and Sam gets a message that suggests his father might still be around, living in the computerised world known as the Grid and working on a breakthrough that could change the course of human history. Sam ventures into the Grid, and finds his father in hiding from his own digital counterpart, Clu, who rules the state with a pixellated iron fist.

At least Tron: Legacy starts how it means to go on, with an on-screen notice about how this 3D presentation features many 2D scenes. It only compounds the dishonesty of the gimmick by playing out this disclaimer only after cinema patrons have forked out extra for the "3D experience", taken their seats and sat through ten to twenty minutes of ads and trailers. The film starts out low, and continues to disappoint, specifically in how it looks in completely the other direction to its predecessor.

Even if Tron isn't that impressive, and looks dated by today's visual standards, prominently on display in this film in particular, there's a prescience about it. Tron was released before the Internet was widely known, but its relation of the inside of a computer to arcade games and social interaction could well be linked to the world wide web. In Tron: Legacy, every single thing is not only understandable in terms of every development in cinema and technology that has happened since, but also identical to them in so many ways.

It even borrows heavily from the first film in the name of in-jokes and references. Lines are repeated, shots are recreated, and it's practically a remake in all things except for the continuing arc of the elder Flynn, played by Jeff Bridges. Bridges plays Flynn very well, although burdened with a suddenly emergent tree-hugger outlook, but even the Dude himself can't manage to salvage Clu from the haze of overhyped de-aging SFX. There's not a single frame where Flynn's ageless doppelganger looks photo-real, even when framed alongside the computer generated vistas of the Grid. For his part though, Bridges does a damn fine job- it's always a pleasure to see him as nature intended.

With regard to other intertextual gubbins, the first half hour plods along with Center City looking an awful lot like Christopher Nolan's Gotham. And we're introduced to Garrett Hedlund's Sam, a protagonist so impossibly vacant that he couldn't be more dull if he were played by Shia LaBeouf. To break the monotony, he dives off buildings and breaks into corporate headquarters- in 2D, mind you- in a number of other scenes reminiscent of The Dark Knight. This also sadly includes how seriously it takes itself, which works less well for lightcycles and electric data frisbees than it does for a masked vigilante fighting mob rule.

Poor Michael Sheen also has very little to work with, and frankly, he's made to look like a twat in his role as Castor, the film's most useless and inexplicable character, who runs a disco for programs on the Grid, for some reason. He enlivens the proceedings in much the same way as Jar Jar Binks enlivened The Phantom Menace, and I'm not exaggerating. Olivia Wilde comes off rather better in her naive warrior woman role as Quorra, making her the most magnetic screen presence by default and a joy to watch whenever she gets to bounce off of Jeff Bridges.

Many negative reviews have said that Tron: Legacy is to Tron as The Matrix Reloaded is to The Matrix. I'm going to go one further, having already invoked Jar Jar. It's funny that Tron came out of a period in Disney's history when they tried to find the next Star Wars, and now years later, this sequel comes close to the drudgery that characterised George Lucas' largely abysmal prequels. It's not as bad as either Episode I or II, but it has all the clunky dialogue, over-reliance on visual effects and general matter-of-fact-ness about it that made those films such a pain.

Tron: Legacy might have decent special effects, but it looks and feels like the moodiest night out you'll ever have, set in a giant orange and blue neon-lit club where nothing really registers as important.  I've been wrong before, but I think Disney may have made a $200 million mistake. It's taking the slot in which Avatar broke the bank in 2009, and it's a similar mish-mash of recent developments that's not even as good as "Dances with Wolves in space". It feels like it goes on for way longer than its two hours, and the script is too incredibly convoluted to forgive or even to follow. Despite occasional and apparently accidental lapses into real entertainment, and great performances from Olivia Wilde and the proper Jeff Bridges, this last hope in a dismal Christmas movie schedule is a massive letdown.

Tron: Legacy is now showing in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Tron: Legacy, why not share your comments below? If you think the Star Wars prequel comparisons are a tad harsh, come back when you've seen the film and your lexicon of words to describe the sun is suitably expanded...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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