With Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner and James Frain; Directed by Joseph Kosinski; Rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language; 126 minutes.
Remember those wholly unnecessary remakes of “Godzilla” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still”? There was a lesson there for studios considering remakes and sequels: just because you have the rights and the money doesn’t mean you should do it. The question that ought to be asked before any such film goes into production is, “What is the compelling story we have that requires this new version to be made?”
Which brings us to TRON: LEGACY. The original “Tron” arrived in 1982 and was notable for being one of the first films to tie into the newly popular video game culture. It wasn’t the most compelling story but the special effects were so eye-popping – for 1982 – that the film earned a reputation. It wasn’t such a huge success that a sequel was rushed into production, but now 28 years and a huge leap forward in special effects later, the folks at Disney decided it was finally time.
Naturally, we not only get new special effects but, in some locations, digital 3D and even the wide-format IMAX. Some thought was put into this, and we even get an on-screen notice that the film starts in 2D and then shifts to 3D by design. The story follows Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) who is drawn into cyberspace to try to find out what happened to his father Kevin (Jeff Bridges), the focus of the original film. His initial entry into the cyber world and the high-speed race he finds himself in are highlights of the film.
Unfortunately, there’s also a story. It involves a battle between CLU and Kevin in the cyberspace world, with CLU – a computer construct designed by Kevin – prepared to lead his cyber army into a takeover of our “real” world. There are all sorts of questions the film fails to answer as to how this cyber world exists and how real people like Sam and Kevin can live there, but we don’t even have to get to that point to see the problems.
First, the story is very thin. The theme seems to be that it is a mistake to seek perfection. Real life is messy. Second, the filmmakers have used a CGI construct of Jeff Bridges so that he appears as his younger self as CLU. Like the homunculi of Robert Zemeckis’s movies “The Polar Express” and “A Christmas Carol,” CLU is so unrealistic that it’s a distracting – and creepy – misfire.
Those who rush to see “Tron: Legacy” because they have fond memories of the original or simply want to geek out on the effects will find their pleasures, as the film is far from unwatchable. However, in spite of the upgrade of effects, it’s still a world that’s largely based on early 1980s video games and what’s supposed to seem sleek and futuristic comes across as retro, with the musical score by Daft Punk only adding to that feel. It’s a movie that, no doubt, will make a lot of money. However, it cost so much that you may have to wait another 28 years before someone greenlights a third “Tron” film.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.