Sunday, December 26, 2010

'Tron: Legacy' a Superficial Triumph

It seems like just about every movie studio is gussying up their most beloved intellectual properties to capitalize on the ongoing 3D craze at the cinema—and few studios know how to cash in on nostalgia quite like Disney. More than 28 years after the release of the original Tron, a poorly received sci-fi curiosity that helped usher in the age of computer animation, the House of Mouse unveils Joseph Kosinksi’s Tron: Legacy, yet another sci-fi curiosity that similarly pushes the boundaries of visual effects.

But is it any good? Well, if you’re one of the many technophiles that fell in love with the original cult classic, there’s no reason why you won’t appreciate Legacy’s story, which ties into the original while at the same time setting the stage for future adventures in the Tron universe. For everyone else, however, Legacy is a string of gorgeous set pieces that just happens to be loosely held together by a narrative that is as simple as it is needlessly convoluted.

What’s Old Is New Again

Sure, Legacy is a sequel, but it’s less about continuing the story as it is about introducing the franchise to a new audience in the hopes that they’ll stick around for the sequels, animated series, comic books, video games and whatever else Disney has in store. In other words, seeing the original Tron will enhance your enjoyment of Legacy, but it’s not necessarily a requirement. In fact, Disney allegedly stopped printing DVDs of the original Tron so younger audience members wouldn’t skip Legacy due to its predecessor’s now-dated visual effects.

At the beginning of the film, we learn that software engineer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), the protagonist from the first film, has created a new “digital frontier” called The Grid, a virtual domain separate from the computer world in the first Tron. One night, when he returns to his office to continue his work on The Grid, he vanishes completely and is presumed dead. Two decades later, his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is still haunted by his father’s disappearance, but when Kevin’s colleague and friend Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) receives a mysterious page from Kevin’s office, Sam investigates. Could his father still be alive?

As one might expect, a trip to dad’s old stomping grounds inadvertently transports Sam to The Grid, a world that is hardly as idyllic as his father had intended. Overseen by the maniacal Clu—a program the elder Flynn created to help him build his digital frontier—The Grid is a dangerous place, and it’s up to Sam to evade Clu’s clutches, track down his father and find a way home.

The story serves its purpose, but it’s really just an excuse to bombard the audience with dazzling visuals (as was the case with last year’s Avatar). Having said that, the special effects are worth the hefty price of a 3D screening. From the fast-paced Light Cycle match to a thrilling climactic chase sequence, Legacy is determined to make sweet love to your eyeballs.

Flynn Abides
No one really expects much in terms of acting from these big-budget 3D extravaganzas, but Legacy’s cast is seldom lost amidst the CGI chaos. Channeling the “Dude” of Big Lebowski fame, Bridges brings to The Grid a healthy dose of humanity as its messianic creator. Hedlund, a relative unknown, rises to the task as the film’s in-over-his-head hero, while the stunning and talented Olivia Wilde provides eye candy of a different sort entirely as the mysterious Quorra. Clad in skintight leather and latex, Wilde often draws attention away from the digital wizardry around her, but I doubt you’ll be complaining.

Even a creepy, computer-generated and de-aged Bridges pulls off an excellent performance as the calculating baddie Clu. We’re approaching the uncanny valley, folks.

With a Twist
As visually impressive as this film is, even its most ardent supporters would admit that the story nearly falls apart in the third act as it races toward its conclusion, largely due to a fairly major “twist” that never feels as important as it’s clearly supposed to be. Without going into spoiler territory, I’ll say that a character that was supposed to be dead, well, isn’t. The reveal is cheap, and this character’s fate serves only to set up a sequel.

Tron Is Serious Business, Apparently
Although the original Tron was pretty goofy—especially for those of us who were introduced to it long after the fact—Legacy takes itself completely seriously. As a result, it’s loaded with moments that should be a lot more fun than they actually are. The core concept behind the Tron films is preposterously cheesy, and it would have better served the film to treat the material with a bit more levity. Not everything needs to be dark and gritty, even though that is the trend these days.

Aural Fixation
Electronic music duo Daft Punk composed the soundtrack for Legacy, and it’s one of the things I loved most about the film. It’s remarkably similar to Hans Zimmer’s work on The Dark Knight score, with a welcome smattering of synthesizers added to the mix. Daft Punk’s tunes wonderfully complement the eye-popping visuals in Legacy, giving The Grid an otherworldly feel.

End of Line

Tron: Legacy will leave you hungry if you go to the theater craving a good story, but it’s a veritable feast for the eyes. Grab your 3D glasses and indulge.

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