Which is more important: the immediate feeling you have after a film, or the one you have after long consideration? I think both are valid, and if I'm honest, the fairly thorough hate -- or intense dislike, if you prefer -- that I felt for this film upon exiting the cinema has dissipated. Now, looking back, I simply feel bored by it. Although I'm personally interested to explore whether the film is incredibly bad or just incredibly meh, I can't imagine anyone at Disney is chomping at the bit to discover which it is. Those associated with TRON LEGACY should look away now.
I went in with no expectations one way or another. I'm pretty sure I saw the original TRON when I was very young, but a vague image of a light-cycle in my memory does not induce any sort of nostalgia. My attempts to revisit the original before going into TRON LEGACY were thwarted by circumstance, so I decided to turn this into a positive: would this film work at all on someone who doesn't really know what happened in the original?
The answer is no, but it's a qualified no. The script is written in such a way so you feel as if you're being caught up on the action, but without the actual benefits that such scripting might cause. Like, for example, being caught up on the action. For every piece of expository dialogue, the film still makes you feel that you're missing some important chunks if you haven't seen the first. But hey, there's a new character, and he has daddy issues and the ability to drive motorbikes really fast, so maybe that will be something to latch onto.
It isn't. Garrett Hedlund's Sam Flynn is an archetype, and I don't mean that they started with an archetype and built from there, I mean they started with an archetype and stopped. He's heroic-ish, he has a wild streak, and every damn line out of his mouth is some sort of trailer-bound zinger: "Now I'm in trouble!" "You have got to be kidding me!" "Enjoy the swim, guys!" I didn't take notes, so those quotes might not be verbatim, but they're close enough to give you the idea of what 90% of his dialogue consisted of.
I want to talk about the film's main problem, but I can't decide on what it is. As a visually-compelling world, it's a bit of a mish-mash. Sure, the effects are mostly great, but the ideas behind them are weak. There are no clear rules to this world, and so nothing really has any impact. I know the history of the world was laid out in Exposition Speeches 73 through 112, but none of these oral histories impact on what we see. I don't know whether the people who inhabit this world are automated programs or free-thinking beings, so I'm not sure how much I care when they get killed. I know that Clu is trying to take over our world, but I don't really know why, or what that's going to look like. I know he and Flynn had a big falling out, but it's not really clear why. It's this lack of a solidly-defined world that makes the effects completely and inevitably hollow. Yes, they're impressive to an extent, but they're not depicting anything I care about. Even CGI needs to be grounded with some sort of heart.
Of course, any time I was in danger of being impressed by the effects, we would quickly cut to CGI Creepy Smooth Jeff Bridges With Dead Eyes. At first this Benjamin Buttoned Bridges is seen only in flashback to 1989, and only in fleeting glances, so you at first feel relieved that this effect is surely temporary. Then, of course, villain Clu appears, who is also Creepy Smooth CGI Bridges. He gets lots of fully-lit shots all to himself, so you really have time to look at him and be completely taken out of the moment.
Then -- and only then -- do we come to the film's plot. Have a look at this plot outline and tell me what you think: an orphaned young man is destined for greater things because of his presumed-dead father; he finds himself in a fantastical world he's always dreamed of, and discovers he has a particular talent for the futuristic weapons and objects found in this world; his guide is a mystical man in a large cloak who talks about meditation a lot; he is betrayed by a man in a sky palace; an arm is chopped off during battle; the girl he likes is the last of her kind; the boy works out his daddy issues by fighting a hollow representation of his father in the final battle, after said representation defeats his cloak-wearing mentor. Had Olivia Wilde's Quorra turned out to be Sam Flynn's sister, I'd have been on the phone to Lucasfilm's lawyers in a heartbeat. Seriously, lay out the plot points of each film and then tell me there wasn't some heavy influencing going on.
But unlike the original STAR WARS, we just do not care. I don't know if it's because Garrett Hedlund's version of crying is to widen his lips and bare his teeth whilst an unconvincingly-placed tear trickles down his cheek, or if it's because the end objective is not something we're ever invested in. There is a lot of nonsense about getting back a disc to seal off something that was apparently going to seal itself off anyway and now it's only open because of the disc, and I wasn't really following much of it, and this wouldn't be a problem except that the entire climactic battle is based around this apparently important task. (I thought we were long past the style of 90s action movies that included the phrase "Get the disc!", but TRON LEGACY found a new and very literal way back.)
There's so much more I haven't even begun to cover. There's the irritating fact that Jeff Bridges is tasked with playing The Dude rather than Kevin Flynn, because everybody loves THE BIG LEBOWSKI, right? I adore Bridges, so watching him attempt to play a character even as the script forced a "Radical, man!" or a "You're messing with my zen!" out of his lips made me cringe. How anybody even tangentially related to the scripting process thought that forcing Bridges to revisit Lebowski in a fucking TRON sequel wasn't the worst idea in history is beyond me.
But you might not care that much, as Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde distract with their far-more-annoying charisma-free leads. Or, hey, Michael Sheen, whom I usually love, potentially ending his career with the campest character ever to get lost heading to its community theatre production of "Little Shop of Horrors". Was this meant to be the comic relief? It is a special new kind of bad, and I almost admire Sheen for putting his heart and soul into some of the worst characterisations ever committed to film. At very least, he put 100% into it.
Or there's the half hour in the middle of the film where all the action comes to a grinding halt so we can have three consecutive exposition stories. This isn't the first time in TRON LEGACY that everything has been put on hold so we can be told about some sort of exciting backstory that wasn't in the film itself, but it stands out because they put so many of them together in the one sequence. From a pure storytelling perspective, the film is clinically dead for a significant amount of time.
Or there's the fact that Kevin Flynn's plan to defeat Clu could well be described as: "Hey, did you see how I got my butt handed to me at the end of IRON MAN? It had something to do with high altitude. Let's try that exact same thing in the exact same way!" "But we're in a computer. Why would altitude even apply?" "That light cycle really tied the room together."
Or there's the fact that the character of Tron himself -- who is through-and-through the film's Boba Fettt, to continue the STAR WARS metaphor from earlier -- suddenly has an unmotivated moment of redemption for no discernible reason other than the fact that it was the thematically relevant thing to happen at that moment.
Or there's the fact that the script subscribes to my favourite type of faux-intellectual posturing: reading out the titles and authors of old-looking books on a shelf. Sam Flynn saying "Tolstoy... Dostoyevsky..." knowingly and without any particular prompting was the least convincing thing in this wholly unconvincing film. It's a Books Are Good message that has zero relevance to anything else in the movie, and the way it is shoe-horned in is a new kind of hilarious.
Look, the Daft Punk score was quite good, and certain parts (the light cycle sequence in particular) look pretty, and it contains some actors I love (even if most of them are not giving performances I love), but that's about it. The film is a hollow, irritating, soulless experience that can't even build a compelling mythology around a slam-dunk concept.
As a form of escapism it works, but only in that it helps you escape from a far better film playing in the adjoining cinema. Although why you'd want to do that is beyond me. Avoid.