Friday, September 7, 2012

Tron Legacy Review - boring & dumb, sweet music

Tron: Legacy, aka Tron 2.0, came out around X-Mas 2010. It was a much-hyped, long-awaited blockbuster, a seemingly sure-fire hit sequel - even though it came 28 years after its predecessor. Sadly, it was a massive let-down, despite a ton of quality special effects, art design, and a soundtrack I loved instantly.

Let me get a few things out of the way:

  • Rotten Tomatoes rates this a 50%, while Metacritic gives it 49% (but on fewer reviews), so it's not just me. I listened to my favorite critics at the time this pic came out, and it seemed lousy. I only caught it because I was sick one day and it was on Netflix Instant.
  • I like Jeff Bridges and Olivia Wilde a lot, and I hoped this'd be an excellent movie.
  • I don't place Tron on a pedestal. It is at times dull, has problems with pacing, flow, and logic. Yet 1982's Tron was incredibly unique and creative, had clearly-defined bad guys, and the fx were great for the time. It was respectable - more for what it tried to do than the result.
Tron: Legacy's problems are common to modern pictures, a 1-2 punch of awful, and they're strong here. First, the internal logic is pathetic/insane. Second, the characters are either (1) poorly-defined, (2) painfully hammy, (3) around for 4 seconds or (4) completely uninteresting.

The result is an emotionless, uninteresting Tron 2 - a dud with dialogue that's just pointless. Well, wait, the dialogue does advance the story, but it does so in a forced way that makes no sense and is boring. So I suppose there is a point, but it's a bad one.

The story, briefly: Kevin Flynn, Bridges' protagonist from the first movie, is long-missing, but sends a message to his kid. Stupidity runs in the family, so he's also magically transported to the electronic universe programs live in. The Child of Flynn (I love typing that) searches for his father, ends up fighting a tyrannical dictator and many CGI action sequences.

This basic story description gives a superficial set of plots that carry no weight or reality. Much like Batman Begins, Flynn's company EnCom is "owned" by his kid, Sam - even though the 20-something (played by Garrett Hedlund) shows no business aptitude, much less concern for the Co. He's just a fun-loving, base-jumping, prank-playing rebel who's also a trust fund baby.

I'm not kidding, he plays an annual stunt on his company, including some that are embarrassing or can cost EnCom major $, or has guards chasing his ass off a roof. His gag suggests he's a daredevil with a fair, humanistic streak, but this character never gets established otherwise. Especially since we next see Younger Flynn working on his bike and having a surrogate father-son chat with the guy who played Tron in the last film.

The protagonist is a bit hard to relate to. Lots of kids: (marketing demo a) feel abandoned by their parents, (marketing demo b) would love to pull stunts without doing prison time, (marketing demo c) would like to "stick it to the man" in a stylin' way. See the appeal? And don't forget (marketing demo d) the guys who love the first pic.

But the movie doesn't show us what makes Sam Flynn: Son of Destiny act like this kind of person. We just watch people talk about things he did or is: a genius; dropped out college; no girlfriend or job; pissed at his absent pop, misses his dead mom. So... he fixes his bike a lot? And is an activistic for dickish (but extreme) sport once a year?

This is such a rip off of Batman Begins. I want her to scream "Rachel!"

Other than "the audience should think the lead is just great," why does the one cool EnCom board-member tell Sam he should "get off his ass and run the family business?" I like watching Bruce Boxleitner, aka Tron do his thing; he and some other moments of acting are fine. But it's senseless.

Our lead is just sitting around existing most of the time, and we don't have any reason to think he does anything. The viewers/end users/market group are flatly told that Son of Flynn was in CalTech, so he must be smart - and good with tech... things.

Every word is pointless. It's like they're all drunk or wasted. The words just shove the story along.

We're supposed to get a role that does things that show s/he/it is or will become a worthy protagonist. We get a slacker, an extreme-sport-lovin' stand-in for the youngest part of the target audience. To people that want good special effects that occur while watching a decent-to-good story, it's a pretty big problem.

As times passes, nobody's particularly believable, interesting, or appealing. Jeff Bridges' Kevin has somehow turned into The Dude from The Big Lebowski. He spouts lines like "that was radical!" or talks about his chi. He starts off as a hollow hippie, then later starts wearing a ridiculous robe; it makes him look like a Jedi. No really, he walks around looking a Jedi and he's either badass or does nothing.

Guess what kind of "arc" Flynn the First gets?

Olivia Wilde is there to (a) look beautiful, (b) share action scenes, and (c) be a love interest to Sam, Flynn-Spawn. She could do the first part covered in sewage, so that's not a problem. She can't really do the third part, because it's a soft, undeveloped romance between bland roles. He has no personal connection to her, she's just hot; she latches onto him because she's fascinated by the real world.

A movie about an electronic world shouldn't forget what a "spark" is. How can a movie have so much talking and so little character? Couldn't they just show nothing but action scenes for 105 minutes?

Pretty, nice reading, but... my brain hurts. And is sad.

This FX spectacle, tho, really fails her with that middle part. She never seems tough, as much because she's skinny as that her moves look very staged and CGI-fake. Trinity in The Matrix looked like she was actually kicking ass. Quorra (yes, that's her name) just looks like she's dancing in a green-screen room; if she taps somebody, she's landed a killing blow. Wow. But can you punch a program?

The bad guy is CLU. He's also played by Bridges, with CGI work to give Jeff his 1982 face. The effect works badly, looking fake; it's like a... hologram of a cat head. Worse still, CLU has no motivation until the end, & that's when he suddenly presents a super-massive threat that goes beyond our heroes.

But in a decent movie, threatening the heroes should be enough. If we care about them, we don't need a world-ending problem, too. It's just a cheap grab to get viewers invested in the climax. CLU's back-story is also way too familiar: he's pissed off that his creator (aka "DAD," aka OG Flynn) didn't focus on him alone. It's the same attitude problem we see in Sam the Scion of Flynn House.

But why does a program have an attitude problem like that? Why does it have a psychological arc (not on-screen, mind you, it's just talked about) that's like a bratty child? Yes, the writers stuck to subtle THEMES, but then they also set up one of the characters as a Jesus analogue.

I just see no justification for adding a lame back story. It doesn't make sense of the villain's actions: because Flynn the First got involved with other stuff, CLU became a vicious, psychopathic, destructive, Mussolini-esque dick to literally everyone and everything. And all those other programs just fell in line...

I'd love this movie - without the dialogue.

Tron: Legacy really fails when it tries to be serious. It's like talking to someone who can't be mature, real, or honest. When the Flynn-Sire asks his kid for an update on the last ump-teen years, Flynn the Lesser says "War in the Middle East. Global Warming. Celtics/Lakers going at it again."

Really? This is Flynn the Younger, daring boy billionaire?! It's so jaded and trite and cynical, and freaking typical of today's scripts. There's no meaning or positivity, because that might seem too "soft" for the age demo. There is no emotional depth in this movie, and that's not on purpose.

But the flaws just keep on coming, like a can of paper snakes. For one, everything interesting or intriguing already happened forever ago. There are at least 3 interesting developments in Tron 2: The Borening; they're all in the past, and that's no good.

The second cheap shot is creating massive, ludicrously-high stakes just because that should make things more engaging. The idea that you can be literally transmitted into the computer world is a major, major bit of science; that's a big deal. But, apparently, the people behind Tron 2.0's story decided to also add:
  • (a) the discovery of creatures that may actually be "god," but are also programs (?) who, 
  • (b) can possibly cure all human illnesses and connect us to the real concept of the soul, yet 
  • (c) were wiped out by CLU, who thinks he can (as the near-end twist)
  • (d) create an army of programs and block-shaped weaponry that can be teleported into the real world to destroy humanity.
What. the. hell.?! The stakes were fine before - son goes looking for missing dad, they're all in danger. But in today's obsession with "epic-ness at all costs," there must also be super-threat to humanity - as well as a super-cure to all our ills. Audiences just won't get interested in anything less; because they're brain-dead, presumably.

Thanks, ColbyCornish, for this side-by-side of Tron 1 & 2

For all its flaws, the original Tron had a very nifty idea going for it: software programmers were making programs that actually possessed the personalities of their makers - just like an author's "voice" or photographer's "style" informs their work. These programs did their jobs, and the operation of a computer was actually playing out through conversations and fights between those programs - on a tiny, electronic level.

This was a cool idea. The "deepest" it ever got was the programs' mirroring of the persona of their creators. Which isn't too bad, since this is much the same way that teachers and parents instill us with a mission, rules, ethics, beliefs.

Tron 2 ignores all that, just focusing on some sweet action scenes that it bogs down with zero stakes and awful dialogue. Legacy should've gone all the way and just focused on raw action spectacle with no attempt for depth. It was done so badly, there should've been less to this film.
And, honestly, Sam Flynn-son could've been a decent character, but it's clear that the people who wrote this don't know what to do with... characters. Extra shame should be heaped on Zuse, played by Michael Sheen. Zuse is a rip-off of that annoying French guy from the two Matrix sequels. Even worse, he's mixed in with some of Chris Tucker's Ruby Rod from The Fifth Element. His hammy, over-the-top nuisance factor is so high, I nearly stopped the video.

The best thing I can say about Tron Legacy is that Daft Punk's score is really, really great; the art design looks excellent as well, but that was pretty much a hand-me-down from the first installment. This was a shallow, hollow, pointless exercise. Unless you just wanna see a world that looks like it's in black light all the time (which is admittedly very cool), I can't recommend this to anyone.

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