If you’re old enough to remember seeing Tron when it came out in 1982, you may understand why I wasn’t chomping at the bit to see this much-hyped sequel. Tron was revolutionary in its use of computer graphics to place Jeff Bridges into a videogame environment—and that was definitely cool. But even cutting-edge technology needs a story to create a satisfying movie experience, and that’s where Tron fell short. I’m sorry to say the new movie is an example of history repeating itself.
The two films have something else in common: their major asset is Jeff Bridges. In 1982 he already had two Oscar nominations under his belt (for The Last Picture Show and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot), and it was his charismatic presence that saved—
—Tron from being a mere exercise in computer graphics. Today, with a long-deserved Oscar on his mantelpiece and decades of great performances to his credit, Bridges is a past master at bringing offbeat and colorful characters to life. Once again, he gives a special-effects movie its most valuable moments of gravitas and humor, as a hippie-ish father who unwittingly abandoned his young son when he was swallowed by a video game years ago.
Bridges also participates in a technological feat that wouldn’t have been dreamed of in 1982, playing a clone of himself frozen at the age of 35. “Frozen” is the operative word here. As a friend of mine once observed, while we watched an impressive video effect unfurl, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” The process that enabled the creators of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to de-age Brad Pitt, step by step, has been employed to paste a seemingly calcified Jeff Bridges face onto a body double to create a villainous doppelganger. The result isn’t wondrous or awe-inspiring, as it was in Benjamin Button; it’s just weird.
This is not to say that Tron Legacy doesn’t have impressive visuals; the settings, costumes, and overall production design are truly impressive. Hard-core gamers may derive so much enjoyment from the look of the picture, and its action scenes, to overlook its shortcomings. And a goodly portion of the audience may be content to ogle Olivia Wilde in her futuristic, form-fitting outfit. (Garrett Hedlund is also good as the movie’s hero, Bridges’ son as a grownup.)
But at a shade over two hours, Tron Legacy needs more than effects and sensations to keep us engaged, especially on the emotional level it aspires to reach. An uninspired screenplay (credited to four writers) doesn’t deliver the goods.
The original Tron earned a niche in movie history, more for what it attempted than what it achieved; I don’t think the sequel will follow in its footsteps. Too many other movies have put CGI to better use.