Tron: Legacy (2010)

It would easy to blow off Tron: Legacy as a film pandering to the fantasy of Generation Y kids all dreaming about that glorious day when immersive virtual reality becomes a reality. It would be easy, except for the fact that in Tron: Legacy the virtual world sucks, a totalitarian society bearing down upon all “users” in attempt to purge the system. What happed to such an amazing world? We happened, man.

As Sam Flynn (Garret Hedlund) struggles to survive the world his father, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), created, he learns of a troubling past, something that started off with the best of intentions but lacked the foresight to see the end result. The awe-inspiring, dark visuals accentuated with frames of light may please the eyes, but they only underline the harsh truths of a hostile world that has cast out its creator.

Kevin is trapped inside the world, has been for years, as his son has grown up in the real world wondering what happened. It’s a narrative construct that leads to a lot of exposition, perhaps too dense at times, but it sets up a narrative arc that would encompass too much time for one single film, tracing an entire shift through a virtual world.

This also leads to a bit of hokeiness at times. Being a virtual world, it pushes itself into the boundaries of absurdity, part of it with a far-fetched mythology and part of it in the actual performances. At its best, the film is delightfully odd such as the scenes with Michael Sheen. At its worst, the romance is a bit gooey eyed and corny and the performers slip, especially Bridges who always seems as if he’s about to take a puff from a joint.

The much promoted 3D is, once again, not worth it. The film actually does something cleaver by rending the virtual world in 3D while keeping the real world in the traditional 2D. While the CGI lends itself better to some of the cooler effects, the film encounters two problems.

The first is that the filmmakers don’t have a 3D effect in every shot, which makes it odd to have a strong sense of depth followed by a scene or two of flatness. The other problem is that the images themselves are often so dark that the 3D illusion is not always achieved. Props must be given to the filmmakers for placing mood over spectacle, but it also undermines the whole purpose of 3D when you can’t really make out what you are seeing.

But, in a way, it’s all these seeming miss-steps, mistakes and incongruences that make the film subtly brilliant. The promise of the virtual world is perfection, the film pounds this fact home numerous times, but there’s a flaw in the system, an element of impurity that ruins the dream of the perfect world. It’s Flynn’s dream to create the perfect world. The machine can enable us to reach for it, but the go always eludes our grasp.

Tron: Legacy ends strong, concluding something rather unexpected and counterintuitive given the fact that the film is hyped up as a Disney’s big 3D super spectacle. It’s possible that the executives were too busy drooling over the money shots to notice what they allowed to reach the big screen. It’s also possible that audience members will be too awed by the kickass visuals to care. Being a Disney film, its conclusions are not all that subtle, but that doesn’t stop them from being all the more revelatory.

© 2010 James Blake Ewing