"A Shaggy God Story"
"Rebel Without a CLU"
A sequel to Tron seems unnecessary: the first film was not that good.* A simple story of corporate (analog) white-collar crime that is resolved and revenged in the digital realm of computers, it only came to life in the (at the time**) high-tech sequences that were computer-generated with simple high-contrast wire animations. But, given the advances in techniques since 1982, it seems inevitable that a more sophisticated sequel be envisioned and given the green neon light.
Tron: Legacy, set 28 years later (and directed by Joseph Kosinski), is a better film in construction and underlying story-line—it has to be. The Matrix films, which resemble Tron in a tesseracted inside-out way, raised the stakes, so audiences are no longer satusfied with cycle-chases and neon-frisbee duels. Gladiator games are no longer enough. The story must matter, and be relatable, tap into a collective story...mean something.
The movie tries hard. At times you see glimpses of Matrix, Terminator, and The Dark Knight, "Frankenstein," the Star Wars prequels, with an underlying "Daddy" conflict out of Oliver Stone. But, to their credit, there's some Despero there, too. The Jeff Bridges character Kevin Flynn, CEO of ENCOM (as a result of events in the first film) turns into a messianic figure, part Steve Jobs, part Steve Ballmer, whose vision of life under his brave new cyber-world, promises much—but only if you're not related to him. He's gone missing, with only grandparents to raise his entitled son, Sam (who grows up to be Garrett Hedlund). Sam lives a solitary life (although he is a majority stakeholder in ENCOM) wanting nothing to do with the family business—maybe some Godfather in there too?—except for a yearly prank to keep the board from getting complacent. Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) is still around,*** and a stray page from the old Flynn's arcade compels Sam to visit, and (wouldn't you know it?) he gets zapped to Tronleyland, which has had some extensive renovation done.
With the help of his digi-gangers to his analog counterparts, Tron, Clu and the others, Flynn has constructed a civilization in his cyberworld, until life, finding its way, is generated on its own. The ISO's, as they're called, are a new lifeform, that could bring new possibilities to life outside the grid in Flynn's vision. But every Creator must have his serpent, and Flynn's counterpart visionary, CLU, has his own designs for the future, which includes the invasion and occupation of territory—our world. The stage is set for a confrontation between Flynn and his monstrous creation over their mutual goal, with Flynn's son, Sam, as the ghost in the machine, the spanner in the works.
The actors do fairly good work, given that they all performed in a green-screen purgatory, and Hedlund, with the biggest role, is okay, sometimes even engaging. But it's Jeff Bridges' film. Playing two roles, Flynn as his scruffy self, and CLU in a digitized de-aged '80's version of himself—pretty darned good, if the mouth movement is a little dodgy at times—he manages to push through two versions of the same personality, one that has grown older and wiser, the other that just stayed locked in his decades-old fantasy. Every once in awhile, Bridges' Flynn will say something "Dude-ish" that seems more clever than it is, merely for the fact that it provides a refreshing touch of analog in a digital construct.
A construct, and very derivative. But with so many bits and megabits from so many sources, it does add up to some genuine sparks of ingenuity there, far beyond the original's "parallel wars" equation, and certainly moving beyond merely the highlight of the first film, the gladiatorial games theme. Tron: Legacy is a bit like taking code from different sources to make new, more sophisticated functions. The key element being: you have to go with the program.
Tron: Legacy is a Rental.
* My opinion, of course. There are lots of folks who've been influenced by Tron, including John Lasseter of Pixar/Disney, and Roger Ebert, who booked Tron into his first Overlooked Film Festival.
** Okay. A factoid: the computer they did the FX on had 2MB of memory.
*** Look for Cillian Murphy in an uncredited cameo as ENCOM's chief programmer.
The original light-cycle sequence from Tron (1982)
How far we've come.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
"A Shaggy God Story"