This time last year, almost to the day, James Cameron’s Avatar was released to fantastic reviews and an accolade of awards, leaving just as many viewers saying “meh” as there were praising it as “the best movie of all time”. I’ll admit I was one of the viewers in the middle. It’s not a bad film, in fact its visual flair and ambition are the best things about it, but it’s not a film I would consider a front runner for Best Picture, an award it came very close to winning. Avatar was a film I left the theater pleased with, but unlike Avatar, Tron Legacy (arguably this year’s Avatar) is a film I truly can’t wait to see again. Remarkable visual design, a strong direction including some strong action set pieces and a memorable story make for a film that I believe will stand the test of time and be a film I get to show my grandkids some day. The film takes place a long time after the original Tron, where Neil Flynn (Jeff Bridges/Star of the Original Tron) has been missing for some time, and no one’s quite sure why. Some say suicide, some say he just ran away from his company’s problems. Almost 20 years later, his son Sam Flynn (Garret Hedlund), is led back to his father’s old arcade, and through a series of events becomes trapped in The Grid, his father’s own creation. Entering the virtual world, Sam soon realizes the world isn’t quite what his father originally envisioned. CLU, one of Neil’s creations, has overtaken The Grid as a dictator, and has forced Neil into hiding. The performances in the film range from the surprisingly good to the reanimated corpse with soul-less eyes creepy. I can see how many would strongly dislike Garret Hedlund’s performance in the film, and to be honest, it’s a hard performance to describe. It’s almost like Sam Worthington’s physical demeanor with the accent and physical demeanor of Jack Nicholson. I personally dug the way he interpreted that character, but at the same time he generally sticks to the basics throughout the movie. Olivia Wilde as Quorra, Neil’s assistant, is fun to look at, and does the best she can with the script. There were a lot of possibilities for the character and Wilde is obviously a talented enough actress to pull it off, but what time she is on the screen she’s one of the film’s best surprises. Michael Sheen has another equally complained about performance in the film, but I can honestly say I enjoyed him while he was on the screen, even if his character came off a little bit as an after thought. Jeff Bridges plays both protagonist Neil Flynn and the main baddie CLU. Much like Wilde he’s not given much by the script so he’s left scrambling a little, but you can’t complain when an actor as talented as Bridges is bringing dude-isms and a respectable performance to his role. For CLU the visual effects team pulled a “Polar Express” and made the character 100% CGI, including the face that is supposed to look like a 30-year-old Jeff Bridges. In the context of the bright and flashy it looks great and it’s almost unnoticeable, but there are a few times (especially when compared against obviously real actors) that it comes off a little unsettling. For the most part, the characters of the film are either simple enough to be just purely enjoyable or are two-dimensional on purpose. I respect the idea that they’re really just exploring the idea these people really are just acting two-dimensional because they’re programs and don’t know any different, but at the same time I would have appreciated a little more thought put it into them and their back story. What back-story is given though (whether it’s on a couple of characters or the film itself) is done it a well enough way that makes it respectably approachable to both and old fans alike. Whereas a lot of people nag at James Cameron’s Avatar for being a re-tread of Dances with Wolves or Fern Gully, Tron Legacy tells what I consider to be a more interesting/original story, if not equally flawed. I loved the concept of Sam having to save his father from his own creation, CLU, and that father/son dynamic, while not really fleshed out, was a neat idea that oddly enough I connected to. I would be lying if I said my heartstrings weren’t tugged at during the film’s big finale.There’s also something about the idea of an Internet world that’s been stuck in time for almost 30 years. The people of the world are barbaric in nature, and it’s easy to think of The Grid as an 80s society stuck in time with a hit of neon shot into its veins. Needless to say, none of this is really given to the audience; it’s all my interpretation. Once again it comes back to the films more ambitious than its script will allow it to be. By the ending credits it’s pretty clear that the film was sort of rushed into production, especially in the writing department. The writing is by far the film’s biggest weak spot, in fact it almost feels like, in a rush to get the film made, they went ahead with the first few ideas they had for a script in a first draft. I can almost imagine the writing room. “Hey, right here we should put in a light cycle chase, and over here we’ll put in a big neon airplane and a fight inside of a club, that would be so rad!” There are a handful of plot holes that are kind of hard to ignore, there are lines of dialogue that come off just painfully in desperate need of cutting, and a rewrite could and should have been in order.
But who has time to focus on plot holes or poor writing when there are so many pretty lights flashing on the screen!? Obviously if you’ve seen any of the trailers or posters, you can see that the film has a phenomenal artistic design. There are basically two colors in the entire film, blue or orange; Blue represents the good guys, and orange represents the bad guys. All of the sets that look like they’ve been drowned in neon blue look fantastic, and the costumes (especially some of the more daring designs of CLU’s and Neil’s capes/gowns and the sirens that assist Sam) obviously got the more focused end of development, and it becomes the film’s defining aspect. The film is so gorgeous as it was becoming apparent that the film was drawing to a close, it was hard to accept the fact I was going to have to leave that world. I’d only be retreading ground if I spent too much time praising the film’s 3D. Maybe this will explain it well enough. Better than most films, but not How to Train Your Dragon masterful. It even goes to benefit the film’s four major action pieces, without a doubt the film’s finest moments, which utilize both the 3D and the Visual Design in a commendable way. In retrospect it’s odd that the film is basically structured as action, action, exposition, action, and then action, but each of the main action set pieces are equally terrific. Even during the long stretch of action in the middle there’s always that looming threat of a big action scene waiting to (and many times eventually) happening. The light cycle chase alone is worth the price of admission. It’s especially amazing that all of the fantastic action scenes are all paced and set up in such a great way by a first time director. This guy has a great hold on how to shoot, choreograph, and successfully make action scenes interesting, and I can’t wait to see more from this guy. Daft Punk (who make a cameo in the film) put together a terrific score for the movie that you’ll have stuck in your head for a long time. When you start to compare Tron Legacy to many other recent live action Disney tent pole films (National Treasure 2 for example), it’s actually a pretty nice addition to the repertoire. It’s fun, short, and both kids and adults can enjoy it. Most importantly, it leaves plenty of opportunities for Disney to make money off of it. Count me in. If the sequel(s) to this one were half as entertaining and twice as well written, I’d be there for the film-opening weekend and first in line for the rollercoaster and/or gift shop. Where Tron Legacy slips up in its script and a handful of underdeveloped ideas, it perfectly executes what great things can come of 3D technology and a few awesome ideas in the creative field. I can give it a solid recommendation for any family looking for a generally pleasing film after all the presents are unwrapped, which should mean even more considering the infamously steep 3D surcharges. It may not have met its full potential, but it’s definitely a strong start to what could very well be Disney’s “next big thing”.
4 out of 5