Not the legacy I was looking for ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Not the legacy I was looking for

TRON: Legacy
My rating:

I recently rewatched the original 1982 TRON, and I want to say it has not aged well - but the thing is, it wasn't very well-regarded even in 1982. It was clearly made by a first-time director (Steven Lisberger), whose direction and storytelling sense were exceedingly clumsy. But watching it again, I saw two things it had going for it. One is the super-cool visual design of the computer world, that included tanks and spaceships and those awesome lightcycles, all of which still look great today (albeit in a charmingly retro way). The other is its concept of a world within a computer network in which programs were people, had the faces and personalities of their creators, and actually worshipped the "Users" as gods. Critics and audiences at that time may have disregarded these - or failed to appreciate them - but they were enough to inspire an entire generation of geek kids. (Of which I was one. Young TMBF was not immune to its charms.) And now that generation has grown up and become filmmakers themselves, who have given us a sequel 28 years in the making.

What's disappointing then is, these filmmakers were inspired by only one of those two things.

Twenty years ago, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), brilliant computer engineer and CEO of software conglomerate ENCOM, disappeared mysteriously. Then one day, his now-grown son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is contacted by Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), Flynn's old partner and ENCOM executive, who tells him of a page he received from a number at Flynn's old video arcade. When Sam investigates, he finds himself transported into the Grid - a vast virtual world that is now ruled by Clu (Jeff Bridges), a tyrannical program that bears Flynn's likeness. Sam is immediately thrust into life-or-death gladiatorial games, but another program called Quorra (Olivia Wilde) comes to his aid and reunites him with his father - who has been trapped in the Grid for a very, very long time.

Okay, let me start by explaining why I'm giving it 4 stars: because it is aaawwwesome. The updated glowing-neon look of the Grid is so incredibly awesome, I was pretty much open-mouthed in awe the entire time. The new lightcycles, the light car, the various flying vehicles, the disc fights - I'm almost dismayed at how I can be so entranced by its shinyness and still call myself a film critic. But honestly, it's not just the shinyness. Joseph Kosinski may also be a first-time director, but he proves far better than Lisberger at delivering good old action-adventure thrills; the film is far more engaging on a visceral level than the original ever was. And then there is Daft Punk's soundtrack. You've probably heard a lot about how cool it is that the innovative electronic music duo are doing their first film soundtrack for a movie that fits their sensibilities to a T, and the results are totally seriously cool. The music is so forceful and majestic, it adds hugely to the awesome quotient, and had me leaving the cinema hall feeling pumped.

Now here's where I spend the rest of my review blasting the movie. I'd already heard comments about the movie and how its visuals were stunning but its story sucks, and I can't disagree. I watched the original film shortly before this one, so the story (sort of) made sense to me, but it's clear that anyone who hadn't would probably be hopelessly confused. The reveal of the identity of Rinzler, Clu's mysterious helmeted badass henchman, is tied closely to the first film, but here it's handled in a way that doesn't bother to be coherent to new viewers. And one of the plot elements in the 1982 TRON is that Users who entered the computer world had vague god-like powers - and this was just one example of its messy and look-just-roll-with-it-okay? sense of storytelling. Flynn's deus-ex-machina powers makes a return here in a manner that will likely evoke loud reactions of WTFHUH? They had 28 years to fix the flaws of the original, and they just didn't bother.

In fact, there's a lot that they didn't bother to take from the original. TRON's concept of a computer world didn't really hold up to scrutiny (and even its depiction of the real world was wonky. ENCOM is a corporation that develops video games and quantum teleportation technology?), but it had a lot of fun finding digital analogues for everything. Insurance programs were happy to help people plan their futures. The lightcycles and tanks and Recognizers were taken from actual video games. People were rejuvenated by drinking glowing water that they called "a pure energy source". And the entire plot was about a computer network that had been cut off from the software engineers who created it, thus creating a schism in which believing in Users is considered heretical - and the hero had to get to an I/O tower to communicate with his User. It was recognisably about computers, in all that uniquely '80s sense of gosh-wow cheesiness.

TRON: Legacy is not about computers. Other than that its denizens are still referred to as "programs", the world of the Grid has almost nothing to do computing and software and information networks. It's just another portal fantasy, like Narnia or The Wizard of Oz. And that's a real pity, because one would've thought that a sequel to TRON would build on its ideas. What would the Grid look like in the age of the internet? What would programs look like, and what purpose would they serve? What would video games look like, now that we're all playing Crysis and Starcraft 2 and Farmville? Granted, no one predicted the massive advance in information technology way back in 1982, and it would be a huge challenge to incorporate all that into a sequel. But screenwriters Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz simply didn't bother. It's like the only thing they were inspired by from TRON is its visual aesthetic.

Thus, they made a film that's very pretty to look at, but is also infuriatingly shallow. Its one attempt at an intelligent idea was conveyed during a dinner scene midway through between Sam, Quorra and Flynn. (And in that dinner scene, they're clearly dining on a roast suckling pig. What is this, PORK.EXE?) Apparently, Flynn's tinkering with the Grid gave rise to spontaneous AI - artificially intelligent, sentient life that he calls "isomorphic algorithms" or ISOs. This is the miracle that he mentioned in the beginning, that would "change everything - science, medicine, religion." Um, okay. How? It's a cool idea, but how about exploring it, Messrs. Kitsis and Horowitz? I grok science fiction, so I can imagine heaps of ways artificial intelligence can change the world - but this movie doesn't give us any of it.

And Clu's master plan is... okay, there was this bit in the trailer in which he said, "Out there is a new world! Out there is our destiny!" So I thought, aha, he wants to open up the Grid network to the Internet. And he'll be able to wreak genuine havoc if he does, since he is, after all, a program. But no. Like I said, this isn't a movie about computers. Clu wants to materialise in the real world - which, okay, I can soooorrta buy that, since if human flesh can be translated into bits and bytes I guess you could also go the other way round. But it's lazy. Kitsis and Horowitz took a film that had some genuinely cool and fascinating ideas, and wrote a generic sci-fi action sequel with a villain who wants to Take Over The World.

But I thought it was awesome. Well, it was. It's a slick and well-made action movie, and I like those. I liked the cast; Olivia Wilde is cute (and stuningly hawt). Garrett Hedlund's range isn't taxed too much, but he does a lot with some very subtle emoting. Michael Sheen has fun vamping it up as Zuse, the diva nightclub owner. And Jeff Bridges oozes hippie-Jedi-Master cool - although any time he appears as his digitally de-aged self, whether as Clu or in flashbacks, it falls squarely into uncanny valley territory. It's a far better cinematic experience than its predecessor, and even its plot holes didn't really bother me much, because I saw them as callbacks to the original film. I'm still giving it 4 stars, even though I seriously considered knocking it down to 3-½ as I wrote this review. It may have wasted terrific potential just to become yet another sci-fi action movie, but it's far from generic - not when it looks this cool.

Expectations: I didn't even expect this movie to make it to Malaysia


profwacko said...

Motor bike war = cool
Olivia Wilde = hot
Movie poster = awesome.

Even with weak plot or unlogical villain's plan to overtake the real world, the movie still considered in the Kewl Muvie zone to me.

JΞMS£Ɲ said...

TRON:LEGACY has Great graphics & Scores. :)

But, kinda confusing at certain scenes..

Good film in conclusion. ;)

Unknown said...

The visual is superb, but the story on the other hand...

I'd say that the old disney game Tron 2.0 (2003) has a better storyline than this movie.

Zaiful Zaharuddin. said...

its totally the most awesomely superb film ever made collin.but, saya terlelap di pertengahan film! haha.mayb the 3D spec is a bit shady..gelap dan mmberatkan mata saya yang letih.
like fufufu said above,the visual is cool but the plot and storyline a bit draggy.i mean, they talk too much.haha.just my humble 2cents.