There used to be a time when it was acceptable for big-budgeted blockbusters to have muddled plots, limber acting, but dazzle its audience with money shots or mesmerizing effects. Perhaps around 2002, with Sony’s Spider-Man we began to demand more from our blockbusters. Gone were the days when Michael Bay could get away with not explaining why NASA would hire drillers instead of training their astronauts to drill, or how a man built virus could infect an advanced race of aliens. Audiences wanted their blockbusters to make sense, which is a modest request and one fully supported by this movie-watcher. Yet, every now and again, it’s OK to have a film that, for better or worse, operates on its own terms and doesn’t make sense. TRON Legacy likely will and has been catching a backlash for that.
And you know, while understandable, it’s fine that the film works like this.
Given how big Disney has hyped the film, it’s perfectly understandable why some expect more out of this than Joseph Kosinski can deliver. On the same token, Kosinski has managed to perfectly recreate the spirit of the original even if the game has indeed changed. One must remember that the first Tron was by no means an excellent story and coasted on a charming Jeff Bridges, some groundbreaking effects, and a very distinct visual look. In this respect, Kosinski has gone above and beyond the call of duty and crafted a picture that feels like a perfect sequel to the 1982 original.
Yet, just like the original, there are similar bugs in Kosinski’s program. What the original has over this installment is a bit tighter of a script. Granted, Steve Lisberger’s script isn’t Shakesphere by any stretch, but the structure was a tad more coherent, and even the stakes were a little higher. For Legacy, Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis are serviceable, but they don’t try to overcome just being that. They have an emotional core (likely due to the doctoring the boys at Pixar did,) but a lot of their decisions make as much sense as Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist.
Under a more competent director, their flaws might’ve gone unnoticed, but Kosinski isn’t up to the task. He may not deserve to be as vilified as much as he has been, but my gripes stem from how he’s blocked his sequences. He seems to feel we need to see every single action the characters do (for example, do we need CLU making an elongated march when he finds the Flynn’s have rescued Kevin’s disc?) when a few trims here and there would really benefit the film, both in the exposition department and some tighter scenes.
But in the end, one can sit here and talk about the wooden acting (and outside of Bridges in both roles, it really is,) the rugged script, or the shoddy directing and they’re all viable complaints. At the end of the line though, it doesn’t matter. Tron Legacy never once tries to be self-important or trick the audience into thinking it’s the most important film ever made. What it does right, it knocks out of the park and it begins with the 3D and visual effects.
In some circles, Darren Gilford has taken a beating for his production design. He won’t here, as his very Halo designed motif is welcome and fits the current generation of gamers this film is marketed to. There’s one set that’s not as well-designed as I’d liked, but that if anything is more personal preference than it is a shoddily designed set.
Gilfrod is complimented by some terrific cinematography by Claudio Miranda, who may be the real star of the film. The ice blue palette he has works, and doesn’t overshadow the reds and yellows of Clu, Rinzler, and their Sentrys. Miranda’s lighting set-up gives the film a distinct, detailed look and he’s only concerned with going for the cool shots when needed, not because he can.
Still though, this wouldn’t be Tron without some spectacular visual effects and now with the advancements in 3D, Tron Legacy surpasses James Cameron’s own Avatar as THE essential 3D Film (personally, I thought Cameron was outdone by Snyder with Legend of the Guardians. Still Legacy trumps that film too.) In fact, this is the first time I truly wondered how well the film would play without the 3D gimmick attached. The visual effects compliment the 3D, and truly give fresh life to the action sequences. For as much as a lashing as I gave Kosinski for his general directing ability, he’s impeccable when it comes to blocking his action and making it exciting. The team at Digital Domain is ten hundred percent behind him and has breathed a whole lot of life into Kevin Flynn’s imagination. Where the original Tron looked a lot like a video game, Legacy’s world looks and feels like a place that could exist and be visited sometime soon. And just to touch on it, the de-aging effects on Jeff Bridges are getting a little bit more than their share of backlash. True, there are certain shots where it’s bothersome, but overall it’s pretty remarkable that it works as well as it does.
Tron Legacy is a nice, old-fashioned blockbuster that is only out there to entertain. Audiences and especially film critics seem to be demanding that the film be the “next great masterpiece” when it was never going to achieve that. And like those old-school blockbusters, critics are destroying this movie. Good, I say. The argument can be saved for later whether the marketing blitz from Disney hurt it, but on it’s own, Legacy accomplishes it’s goals, and does so in spades. Is it a flawed film? Oh yes, but it embraces the fact that it is, and never tries to explain why it’s not. Tron Legacy is a trip truly worth exploring and for better or worse, it truly is Tron for this generation.
Oh, and one more thing: Daft Punk? When I’m ready to tackle features, expect a call from me.