Maybe Disney should have waited a bit longer.
Nearly 30 years after the original's technological light-year leap forward in cinema, you'd think “Tron: Legacy” would be — to borrow lingo from Jeff Bridges' perpetually self-realizing Kevin Flynn in the movie — more awesome, man.
Instead what you have is some banal family dynamics, some remarkably ropey CGI, a mostly standard soundtrack by electronica kings Daft Punk, a bunch of too-dark 3D, and a whole lot of waiting for something to happen that never really does.
Now before the fanboys try to derezz my program, let me say that the first moments Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) spend on the Grid in search of his missing father leave you positively wide-eyed.
You think, as the Daft Punk soundtrack has the walls literally shaking, this is where “Alice in Wonderland” and “Clash of the Titans” and all the rest went wrong — this is what James Cameron was talking about when he praised the new life 3D could bring to film.
That's followed by the truly jaw-dropping and heart-pounding Light Cycles battle sequence. It is everything every “Tron” diehard, old and new, has been waiting for – fast-paced, high tech action that comes screaming off the screen in crystal clear 3D and, at the same time, defies most of the laws of physics.
This is moviemaking for the 22nd century. Unfortunately there’s not enough of it in “Tron: Legacy.”
What there is a lot of in the film, directed by feature first timer Joe Kosinski, is space. Space for a lot of references to the first “Tron” and other movies past — interior design courtesy of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” is but one — and space for a lot of self-help homilies masquerading as philosophy about the relationship between the human and digital that primarily serves to remind you why the first “Matrix” was so sharp and exciting back in 1999.
Kosinski, a former architecture professor and commercial director, has created a visually arresting digital world but, except for an appearance by Michael Sheen channeling his best Ziggy Stardust and Joel Grey, it lacks heart, stakes and weight.
The relationship between the long absent Flynn and his now grown son Sam is a bit too Co-Dependency 101. Maybe he’s been too long on his own Grid, but Jeff Bridges, who won the Oscar this year for “Crazy Heart,” is more Big Lebowski than big-time computer genius, dropping mumblings of actualization that make you want to take his bong away.
Add to that thin gruel of a potentially creepy romance between Sam with Quorra, Flynn’s house warrior and sole survivor of a rogue program race that Clu 2, also played by Bridges, wiped out to solidify his evil rule over the Grid, and you are left with characters who seem to do very little. Vital to the original, Tron himself, now lead henchman to Clu 2, is underused, unexplored and suddenly and unbelievably shifting sides in “Tron: Legacy.”
And perhaps, worst of all, the effects used to make Bridges appear almost 30 years younger look terrible and cheap — as though they were a last-minute replacement for a technique that went wrong. (A simple line of dialogue would've fixed it — say, Kevin Flynn lamenting that he never was able to get his creation's face right. Or something.)
There’s a lot that feels last-minute about “Tron: Legacy” – the characters, the story, the wild existential notions all feel like they were wedged in. Which, 28 years after the cult classic original and over 5 years in the making, leaves you feeling like you’ve been sold a false bill of goods.
Blockbusters are what they are; anyone who expects a flawless film should get their perspective in gear. However, it says a lot, at least to me, that by the time we finally leave the digital Grid and return to the real world, all I could think is how beautiful Vancouver — where they shot “Tron” Legacy” – is, and how I wished I’d spent more time there.
I don’t think that’s the legacy the new “Tron” meant to leave.