Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Tron: Legacy" (2010)

Starring Garrett Hedlund, Jeff Bridges and Olivia Wilde
Written by Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis
Directed by Joseph Kosinski

Ah... Hm.  I've written a bunch about sequels in this blog, how they can often just seem like remakes of the original, trying to recapture the magic of the first.  I've also written a bit about bringing back long-dead franchises (Hey there, John McClane... Whatcha been up to for 15 years?).  "Tron: Legacy" is a bit of both.  As a sequel, I suppose it's rather successful.  As a rejuvenation of a dormant franchise?  I don't know.  On a technical level, it's pretty damn slick, but the script is mostly flat and there's one critical failure that saps the life out of even the big action sequences.

Sam Flynn (Garret Hedlund) is the 27-year-old son of the legendary Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who in the first film traveled into "the Grid," a digital world of his own creation.  But in 1989, Kevin Flynn disappeared, leaving his son and his corporation, Encom, forever.  Now, Sam lives alone, dropped out of college and refusing to run Encom, even though he's the majority shareholder.  His father's old friend Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) comes to him one day and says that he's received a message from Sam's father at Flynn's old arcade. 

Sam goes to the arcade and discovers his father's old workstation in the basement.  Trying to figure out what his father was working on when he disappeared, Sam finds himself transported into the Grid himself, discovering an entire digital world populated by Programs and ruled with an iron fist by Clu (Jeff Bridges, again) who has begun his special "initiative."  Tron (Bruce Boxleitner, again) has long-since died or disappeared, much like Flynn.  Sam is rescued from the Grid by Cora (Olivia Wilde) who works for Flynn, who lives alone in the outlands.  Flynn tells Sam that the Grid he created has gone beyond his control.  Creatures called Isos, life-forms that manifested spontaneously within it, used to mingle with the programs and users (digitized humans) in the Grid, but Clu saw the Isos as a threat to the perfection of the system.  He gathered his forces, killed Tron and exiled Flynn and exterminated the Isos.

Now, Sam, Flynn and Cora discover that the page Alan received came from Clu, who has been building an army.  Clu intends to use the portal Sam opened to get into the Grid to march his army into the physical world and remake it to remove "imperfections."  They must reach the portal and go through it before Clu in order to delete him from the system on the outside, freeing the Grid from his tyrannical rule and saving the Earth from him, as well.

"Tron: Legacy" isn't a bad movie, not at all.  The problem is that it's not particularly great, either.  The script seems padded out, like it doesn't have enough story to cover its two-hour runtime, but decided to do so anyway.  It could stand to lose a few scenes here or there, and likely wouldn't compromise the story or any of the emotional arcs of the characters.  The plot is straightforward; the "twist" regarding Clu's "initiative" and what it has to do with Sam is predictable from the get-go.  The thing holding it all together is the reunion of Flynn and his son, which works well enough but isn't anything that will blow you away.  The burgeoning romance between Sam and Cora is just as rudimentary.

Additionally, Tron, for whom the franchise is named, plays so little a role in "Legacy" that one wonders why he's even mentioned at all.  Tron figures into the film's climax in a minor fashion, but since we have so little investment in him as a character, he's essentially meaningless.  

Clu and Tron are impressive digital creations, de-aging their respective actors some 20 years.  Tron appears only briefly in flashbacks, but Clu plays a major role, meaning that he's around much more.  He looks great, until his starts to speak.  That's when the uncanny valley kicks in, and Clu becomes plain creepy.  The movement of his face, his expressions, the movement of his lips when he speaks... are all just a little bit... off.  It's a problem that plagues realistic digital creatures in every film, and "Tron: Legacy" is no different.

I suppose one could make the argument that it actually works in favor of the "Tron" world and its premise, since Clu as a character is a completely digital creation, a computer program modeled after a flesh-and-blood human being.  Indeed, Clu's inability to have genuine inspiration, to look beyond his own programming limitations is at the core of what brings him into conflict with Flynn and the others.  But that doesn't change the fact that my mind rejects him when he's on-screen.

Still, with all the problems a simplistic script and uncanny valley can bring, "Tron: Legacy" might still have succeeded in being solid entertainment if not for one thing: the film score by French duo Daft Punk.  This score lives up to none of the promise shown in the pre-release advertising.  For a few moments, there's a great beat and lots of energy pulsating through the action sequences, but for much of the film, the score drags everything down.  There's no energy, no life in it whatsoever save for a sequence at the End of Line Club about two-thirds of the way through.  If the rest of the movie had that kind of awesome, it would've seriously picked up.  A great film score can enliven things considerably, but "Tron: Legacy" fails at that.

Again, for the most part, "Tron: Legacy" isn't bad, it's just sort of there.  The visual effects are slick, the whole production looks great.  But with a rudimentary script and a dull film score, it's just not as fun as it should be.