Jerry Seinfeld claims that the difference between “sucks” and “great” is far shorter than anyone cares to admit. In fact, he goes on to say that they are the same thing. However outlandish that claim may seem, “Tron: Legacy 3D” is an argument in support of Mr. Seinfeld’s statement.
Reviewing movies occasionally puts the critic in an odd position. The things we look for, like a good plot, beautiful cinematography, amazing performances, superb direction, are all very important and core components to a great movie. Sometimes, however, a few of these are glaringly absent, but the movie remains highly enjoyable.
The new “TRON” movie, a sequel bowing some 28 years after the original, falls squarely into this category. No knowledge of the original film is required. For modern audiences, the at the time awe inspiring visuals from 1982 would look sad, tired, and often ridiculous. I recall the first time I saw the film, and how blown away I was by the effects, but even the romanticizing of my youth can’t dull the memory of staring blankly at the screen immediately following the climactic battle. In short, withered old pasty evil dude pulls his head back from a cutout oval and this signifies our heroes have won. It makes no more sense now than it did then.
Jeff Bridges reprises his role as Kevin Flynn, the genius programmer, and in the opening minutes of the film, we find that he has been missing for nearly 25 years. His son, Sam Flynn, ably portrayed by Garrett Hedlund, grew up sans father, and predictably finds himself sucked into the digital world his father has been trapped in for all this time.
The antagonist of this film is no OPED. In fact, the greatest special effect in the movie is a de-aged Jeff Bridges. CLU, our bad guy, is a computer generated Bridges from 1982. No doubt drawing from the effects toolbox from Avatar, the “performance” never feels false or artificial. However, I often felt creeped out by the whole affair, which I think works to the movie’s credit.
In fact, the visual presentation of the world of the “grid,” exceeded all of my expectations. In 3D, the grid dazzles. In keeping with the original film, the color palette is entirely black, blue, white, and orange. Color cues on the costumes glow, indicating at a glance the baddies versus the good guys, and to the credit of the effects team, the lighting coming off the outfits never miss. If the inside of a sleeve glows, the character’s hands are lit up, as they should be.
One complaint on the art direction: Flynn’s lair is a blatant rip off of the sterile glowing white hotel suite at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It works here, but the constant expectation of a jet black monolith appearing in the room pulled me out of the movie on more than one occasion.
The light-cycle races are every bit as spectacular as the teaser trailers indicated. Knowing a good thing when they saw it, the film’s creators added in a light-car, and a glorious light-plane battle in the final act. In all of this, TRON never disappoints.
The cast is attractive, to the surprise of no one. Hedlund possesses that boy-next-door-if-the-boy-next-door-was-an-underwear-model quality that should secure him a reasonably successful career. “It girl” of the moment, Olivia Wilde, slathers on the wide-eyed-innocent yet bad ass mojo as Quorra, our heroine. The most pleasant surprise comes from British actor Michael Sheen, best known for his frequent turns as British ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair. Apparently weary of Fleet Street, he channels David Bowie to great affect as the hyper-stylish, over-the-top showman Caster. Let me be clear, TRON is no place for nuance, and Sheen’s Caster is dangerously close to caricature, but in this setting, that’s just fine.
The other element of the film that just flat out works, is the music. Euro Techno sensation Daft Punk, provide the score, in a beautiful presentation of orchestra meets synthesizer. At turns, moody, trippy, and rave-ready, the soundtrack never intrudes, and enhances everything happening on screen. For fans of the band, the two-disc special edition soundtrack probably already graces their iPods.
Where TRON utterly fails is the story. Even attempting to describe it produces headaches. In short, it is some utterly incomprehensible drivel about isomorphic algorithms, misguided pursuits of perfection, and other garbage cobbled together to explain what the hell is going on on screen.
It fails on every level. Literally nothing about the story works. It smacks of some bastardized form of techno-shamanism that never makes sense on the technical or spiritual level. CLU’s master plan is neither plausible nor tension building.
The best policy here is to ignore the plot altogether. It sucks. Out loud.
And yet, so many elements of the film are great. This is the critic’s conundrum. TRON: Legacy 3D is a popcorn flick, and as such, its all about the viewer’s expectations. If you go in expecting a special effects laden spectacle with kickass music, you won’t be disappointed. If you want a coherent and compelling plot with Oscar calibre performances, you will be bitterly disappointed. This is a movie about light-cycles and light-cars and light-jets and lots of action sequences. As such, it succeeds wildly.
So, yes. TRON: Legacy 3D both sucks and is great. It exists solely as a vehicle for stylish, gorgeous eye candy. You may check all higher brain functions at the concession stand. Buy a massive tub of popcorn, a giant soda, and ride the sticker shock of those purchases into the theatre and enjoy a big blue thrill ride. You can think again on the ride home, if you want.