I was so sure this was going to get nominated, that I already wrote the review. I think the Hugo nominators made the right call in this case, but here you go.
Tron: Legacy is what I call a “requel.” Requels attempt to revitalize franchises by remaking older films while simultaneously attempting to serve as sequels that honor and advance the original continuity. It’s an awkward set of goals to straddle, and it usually doesn’t make for great filmmaking. The best example before this film is probably Superman: Returns, a film that manages to reproduce some of the dumbest parts of Donner’s 1979 film (Luthor’s stupid subordinates and lame real estate profit via earth-shattering natural disaster scheme) while awkwardly attempting to pay homage to Superman II with an awful “son-of-Superman" sub-plot. You get a lot of the same here, and the first Tron isn’t even as strong a model to work from.
The original Tron came out in 1982, and saw Jeff Bridges enter a video game world with exciting, years-ahead-of-their-time visuals. It had a fantastic Frisbee fight and light cycle chase, and no one remembers the awful, plodding, mythology-rich second half. No one, that is, except for the people behind Tron: Legacy. I give them credit for their devotion to a relatively obscure, nearly thirty-year-old sf film, but I have a hard time understanding why they’d work so hard to stay true to a film that, frankly, wasn’t all that good.
Jeff Bridges' character Flynn, has been missing since 1989. His son Sam (played by the intensely forgettable Garrett something) owns lots of stock in Flynn’s old company Encom, but he prefers to live in a shack on the waterfront and play elaborate pranks on his own corporation. After one of these pranks, he hears of a possible message from his father, visits his father’s secret arcade office, and, like his father decades before, gets sucked into “the grid,” a world inside a computer, which has been taken over by his father’s program Clu (Young “Uncanny Valley” Jeff Bridges). He’s forced to play the Frisbee and light-cycle games, then connects with his father (real Jeff Bridges) and a beautiful program Quorra (Olivia Wilde). They take a meandering journey through the grid, and, just like the first film, the movie becomes a plodding mess of nonsense mythology with a half-hearted climax.
I admire that the film takes its mythology seriously. A movie that simply mocked the first Tron could have been far worse. And yet, the film really needs to have more fun with the material. Perhaps the worst sin is that much of this is set up for sequels. It takes a lot of hubris to assume that this movie is going to be a big success, and that we can leave issues like the origins and fate of Olivia Wilde’s character, or even the fate of good old’ Tron himself, to a subsequent film. Sure, it’s probably a smart business move to leave these things unresolved – at the very least you get to milk the fans (though they may be few) with comic book or novel sequels, if not a full-fledged Tron: Legacy II. But, it doesn’t make for a particularly satisfying experience for the rest of us.
Even the visuals were somewhat disappointing. The 3D was pointless, and the gird is kind of boring to look at. Making it dull and scaled back in the original was a brilliant move – they could only render so much. But, after the super-detailed world of Avatar, this looks two-dimensional and bland. The thirty years of advances in computer technology don’t mean anything either. It’s the same concept, in the same world. Apparently, the only thing that the internet didn’t change is Tron. The only real addition seems to be a lot of anime influence…but this isn’t necessarily for the best. I like that Olivia Wilde is made up to look like she stepped out of an anime, but awkwardly timed power-ups and half-assed Zen are the more prevalent influences.
The one aspect of this movie I will give high marks to is the soundtrack. Daft Punk create a lively musical palate based on the original soundtrack that succeeds in making cheesy ‘80s material feel futuristic and exciting – which is exactly what the film as a whole fails to do.