Sunday, January 2, 2011

Tron Legacy (or Sorry, I haven't a CLU) reviewed

What a mess Tron Legacy is. Beautiful, spectacular, expensive, but mainly once you get past the space disco bling it's an almighty mess.

But before we start POKEing Tron where it hurts, let's take a moment to salute the visuals, which not only look gorgeous but come together to form a unified aesthetic. Call it wire-frame Wonderland, call it New Romantic cyberspace, this is a graphic designer's film if ever I saw one. Part and parcel of the Troniverse is also the Daft Punk soundtrack, which slots beautifully into the visuals.

When the film shifts gears and moves into one of the big action sequences like the light cycle battle, the overall effect is stunning. Tron Legacy comes alive. Or, as my partner in crime put it, makes like the Stig on acid. This was the first film I'd seen in IMAX 3D and it was definitely worth adding the extra dimension.

Which is fortunate, as all this techno-flash superstructure managed to distract me some of the time from the broken base of the plot. Let's just pick a few of my least favourite moments (spoiler alert!).

1. Oh noez, thar r Nazis in mah computr

Yes, midway through the film, the planned electronic invasion of meatspace (I know, I know, we'll get to that) is about to kick off. But first, here's a pastiche of a Nuremberg rally a la Triumph of the Will where the genocidal Big Bad does his exposition. Just in case you haven't got it, this scene hammers home that the bad guys are bad using the laziest cultural shorthand available.

By St Turing, this manages to both mildly insult my intelligence and vaguely offend me at the same time.

2. Isomorphic Algorithms say what now?

Or, translated from Tron's world-bling, autonomously evolving programs which will change the world in mysterious ways not specified by the film. Mainly introduced in flashback and exposition, I'm not sure even Alec Guiness could have made this credible or comprehensible. Also, other than giving CLU (the Big Bad and Jeff Bridges impersonator) a reason to be mad, it's irrelevant to 90% of the plot.

3. The Looking Glass works both ways, the head hits the desk

OK. So the lazer which shoots Flynn Sr and Jr into the Matrix, sorry, the Grid, can also shoot programs back into the real world. Say what now? And this is how CLU and his merry band of bits will take over the world?

I'm sorry, but this is just dumb. You could have written a smart script with a sassy invasion plan but here you are, just reprising Wierd Science with added electro-fascism. Yawnola.

And don't even get me started on the cheesy teenage male wish-fulfilment ending where Flynn Jr gets to take his cute video game girlfriend through the mirror. And then takes her to see her first sunrise. I haven't seen a worse ending to an action movie since Kate Beckinsdale's face appeared in the clouds at the end of Van bleeding Helsing. Bleeeurrgh.

4. Plot amputation

One of the good things about the original Tron was the cute mirroring of virtual and real world power structures. So, for example, the CEO of Microsoft, sorry ENCOM, was also the number 2 Bad Guy in the Grid.

The sequel wastes time introducing a new bad CEO and the son of the original bad CEO at the start of the film. And then proceeds to ignore them completely for the rest of the film. And we're left wondering whether this was a botched plotline amputation, or just reflective of the general incompetence of the film as a whole.

I could go on. I could moan about the fact that Bruce Boxleitner is made to sleep with his pager (yes, his pager, in the noughties) in order for the plot to work. I could object to the fact that there's not a single line of memorable dialogue in the film. I could rant about the fact that instead of a smart but exciting film about the relationship between the virtual and the real worlds, what we have is a father-son psychodrama (only without the drama) in Neverland. But I'll spare you.

Jeff Bridges gets through the film alright, walking a line mid-way between Yoda and The Dude as the film's token wise old guy. Come to think of it, I would totally watch a film where The Dude was zapped into the Grid and CLU p**ssed on his virtual carpet. But I digress...

Michael Sheen, the other good actor slumming it here, seems to think that he'd signed on for a remake of Flash Gordon and goes for stratospheric levels of camp in his role as a nightclub impressario. It might be an implicit critique of the rest of the film, given everyone else is Very. Serious. Indeed. But then again, it could just be the rotten screenplay. Again.

What's most frustrating is that, taken individually, none of the film's faults are irremediable or, crucially, probably would have been that expensive to fix. Memo to Disney: if you're going to spend the GDP of a small island nation on the FX you might as well throw a few more bob at the screenplay while you're at it. It pays dividends and here's why.

A good fantasy works when the world it creates and the plot it uses is credible. Not realistic, naturally, but a sufficiently well-designed, internally coherent 'castle in the sky' to allow the viewer to suspend disbelief. Lord of the Rings has this, so does the original Star Wars trilogy, even (so help me) Harry Potter has it.

Tron Legacy, on the other hand, may look and sound very good indeed, but the emperor's neon robes and data disk are mysteriously AWOL.

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