TRON evokes a lot of strong and mixed feelings within me. … Nah, I’m kidding ya–it evokes simple hatred and contempt. TRON as a franchise is a perfect example of why I hate talking to other people about art. I’ve never said that special effects are not part of what make a movie good, but they aren’t the important part. All of this is lost on anyone who has ever defended TRON as being a “visionary masterpiece”, “ignored by the public” for being “ahead of its time”. TRON wasn’t ahead of its time. TRON was computer!Narnia, and the novelty wore thin after less than five minutes in the game world. I’ve yet to see the entirety of TRON, but I’ve already said its title so much this paragraph that it has lost any semblance of meaning. The kind of people who will defend that movie to the ends of the earth are the exact kind of people I seek nothing to do with in my daily life. Special effects do not make a movie a visionary work. Early computer effects do not put it ahead of its time. That movie was ignored by the public for a very simple and very good reason: it stinks.
And now, twenty eight long years later, we have TRON: Legacy, a movie whose redeeming characteristics are its visual effects and its soundtrack. Another visual effects epic came out last year. I don’t have to name it, you know what it is. You’ve seen it by now, especially as it is the number one grossing film of all time. James Cameron understood that if you want to make a movie dedicated to visual effects and CGI world-building, you’re gonna need a couple things. First, you’ll at least need stock characters. Second, you at least need a familiar story. Third, you need a thought-out and detailed world that your audience can easily become engrossed in. His movie had all of these things. TRON: Legacy has a fanboyish devotion so intense that it has built a shrine to the first movie in its basement and faintly smells of milk. It has indeed followed in the footsteps of the first movie in every way, even when those are wide, wide missteps.
Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) is the son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a man whose name you were honestly unfamiliar with a year and a half ago. If I had told you in 2008 that Jeff “Obadiah Stane” Bridges was in TRON, you’d call me a liar. I would have thought I’d been a liar too. Kevin Flynn is a master programmer of such skill and talent that he’s created a fantasy dreamworld of magic with a sci-fi skin in his desktop computer. However, twenty seven years ago, when he was deep in his fantasy dreamworld and the uncanny valley of horrible CGI heads, he accidentally abandoned his son when a program he made named Clu (appearing in this film as Jeff Bridges through a Polar Express filter) rebelled against him and slaughtered a race of sentient computer “programs”. Sam Flynn is now the kind of master hacker that only exists in fiction–capable of replacing an OS with a video of a dog without anyone noticing minutes before launch who also finds a way to distribute said OS for free without using BitTorrent. Olivia Wilde is curiously erotic as a program with a child’s mind. Erotic, because it’s Olivia Wilde. Curious because, seriously, child’s sense of wonder over everything. Am I supposed to feel weird looking at her? Bruce Boxleitner’s in there somewhere, too.
My real problem with this movie, in addition to its mediocre quality, is that it represents the absolute nadir of blockbuster mining so far. When Homer Simpson asked the collected citizens of Springfield in 1995, “Did anybody see that movie, TRON?”, each individual in the room said no. Even Chief Wiggum, who said yes, had both already said no and then changed his answer to a no. People will tell you that TRON‘s effects look great. That’s fantastic–when you even have a semblance of a good movie to wrap around your effects shots, tell me. Same goes for you, Nolan and Fincher. I’m not watching The Social Network for Armie Hammer’s doubling, I’m watching a movie. I’m off track. What I’m saying is, TRON sucks and we knew that fifteen years ago. We were able to look at a turd and see a turd, but now, thanks to a three year hype machine courtesy of the largest media empire America has ever seen, we’ve all been convinced it was a diamond in the rough! It wasn’t. It was a cheap, stupid, poorly written, badly paced and badly acted mess that some poor bastards spent months making CGI for a frame at a time.
I saw this movie in IMAX 3D, because if I’m going to see a two star, I’m going to see the most immersive and luxurious two star I possibly can. Things that helped with this? Costumes, music, CGI. The costuming is out of this world and should be nominated for Academy Awards. Daft Punk’s original soundtrack for this movie elevated it from a dull, plotless and pointless affair into a dull, plotless and pointless affair with damned good music. The CGI sets and props were amazing. The CGI Jeff Bridges head looked like something out of a PS2 game released at the dawn of the console. Next time, get the guys Dave Fincher uses–they, at least, have crossed the uncanny valley twice.
Things that didn’t help? Writing, acting, direction, editing, production or anything else. And you know what makes a movie good? It isn’t the costuming, the music or the computer generated imagery. It isn’t the amount of people working on it. It isn’t the money you’ve spent to make it and market it. It isn’t the amount of blood, sweat and tears that went into the final product from everyone involved. What makes a movie good are the writers, actors, director, editors, producers. And if something’s rotten at their stage–if even those people think that an orange-and-teal, samefest TRON sequel is a good idea? Nothing can save your picture. Not even IMAX 3D. TWO STARS