With so many movies these days being filmed, converted or showcased in 3D, it's appropriate that some vital questions be asked: Firstly, is a 3D element really necessary? Secondly, does it enhance the story and really, truly add that extra "dimension" to the film? And finally, is there enough of a story to keep up with with the effects without being totally overshadowed by them?
Not counting animated films, Tron: Legacy is the seventh film I've seen in 3D this year. And putting it mildly, I have yet to see one where the answer to all of the above questions is yes. Several of them have been absolutely magnificent in terms of visual effects - Avatar, of course, as well as, God help me, Resident Evil: Afterlife. I'm inclined to put Tron Legacy in that group as well, a group that has one other thing in common: a lackluster story.
Films that have budgets of tens, even hundreds of millions of dollars are nothing new. But if you are someone who loves movies for more than just the bangs and flashes, effects should be a means to an end, and only that. But since no one in history has ever spent $100 million on just a script, movies that are cinematic equivalent of empty calories will continue to be made. And Tron: Legacy, I'm sad to say, is just another film that could have been so much better but just wasn't.
In the original Tron, which was released in 1982 and which I hadn't seen since then until just recently, computer graphics were infinitesimally primitive compared to today, of course. At the time, the idea that a person could be sucked into a digital world where computer programs were given human form and clad in cool-looking neon-colored outfits was a novel one. But the movie itself, didn't garner that big a following, or so I thought. It took a full 28 years to realize the sequel, and while the bells and whistles have gotten a lot more expensive, the story itself still suffers from the same flaws the original did.
The central character of Tron was Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a hotshot video game designer who had his ground-breaking ideas stolen by a business partner, who went on to fame and fortune while Kevin was relegated to being a video-arcade owner. However, in an attempt to reclaim his intellectual property, Kevin is hit with a digitizing laser and transported to a strange landscape known as "The Grid," a dark, sinister expanse run by an evil computer program. In the end, Kevin is able to defeat the program, return to the real world and claim his fortune and his rightful place as the head of his company.
Legacy rejoins the story several years later, in 1989. Kevin (still played by Bridges, made to look young again through CGI) says goodbye to his young son, Sam, and disappears off the face of the Earth. Guess where he ends up? Flash to the present, when Kevin's company is now a heartless conglomerate. Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is still the heir to the company but wants no part in it; he spends his time thinking of ways to screw with the company's board of directors, and still wondering what became of his father. One night, Kevin's best friend Alan (Bruce Boxleitner, also from the first movie) tells Sam that he received a page that came from Kevin's old abandoned video arcade. Intrigued, Sam investigates, but he, too, is digitized and sent into the computerized ether.
Unfortunately, the old neighborhood ain't what it used to be. The Grid's overlord is now CLU (whose appearance is also that of a youthful Bridges), a program created by Kevin to help him build the perfect digital world. Unfortunately, CLU eventually turned on his creator, sending Kevin into hiding and shutting off his only means of escaping The Grid. CLU puts Sam into a serious of gladiator-like games, which are cool visually but seem to serve no purpose other than showing off the effects. He is eventually rescued by a warrior program named Quorra (Olivia Wilde) and reunited with his father, now an old man. Together, they must find a way to stop CLU and return to the real world.
At the risk of repeating myself, if you see this movie for the visuals, you won't be disappointed. The aforementioned gladiator-type games, which include a disc-throwing throwdown and a series of high-speed light-cycle (motorcycles that leave tangible light-trails behind them) chases, are spectacular. Indeed, the entire landscape of The Grid is amazing, a high-tech world of straight lines and sharp corners, bathed in iridescent white, blue and orange.
The biggest problem, of course, is the story. Kevin and Sam, of course, behing the only "users" in The Grid, are the only characters that seem possessed of human emotion, with the exception of the megalomaniacal CLU and the way-over-the-top character of Zuse (Michael Sheen), a high-end information dealer with a rock-star look and personality. Everyone else, perhaps not surprisingly, is very robotic. And even Kevin and Sam aren't that interesting, either. Kevin is still at heart the New Age hippy that Bridges has made a career of playing, and the only depth in his character comes from sadness and emotional withdrawal from having spent two decades in a world he helped create but has been forced to watch become distorted and perverted by a menace that he, too, created. Hedlund tries his best to convey the love and wistfulness at being reunited with the father he lost at childhood, but it comes off as alternately too emotional (with puppy-dog eyes, no less) and emotionless.
The plot, too, is not without its holes, and just scrapes by in the field of believability. You just know that a showdown between Kevin and CLU is inevitable, and when it arrives, it's only marginally satisfactory. (And, without spoiling things too much I hope, I must add that I've never been fond of deus ex machina as a means to resolve a story.)
It's interesting to note that this sequel has been an idea rolling around in various people's heads since Ronald Reagan was president. Now that it's finally arrived, I can only ask myself if the wait was worth it. And, to apply the three questions I mentioned in the first paragraph, the anwers are yes, yes, and an unequivocal no.
3 / 5 stars