[Movies] Review: Tron Legacy

The stunning Ms Wilde and er... the other bloke.

The stunning Ms Wilde and er... the other bloke.

You know something decidedly weird is going on with Tron Legacy the second Tony Blair appears on screen dressed as David Bowie and starts waving a Plexiglas crowbar in front of his crotch like a gun. The King’s Speech this ain’t.

What it is is a visually stunning, utterly bewildering sequel to 1982’s ground-breaking and frankly over-rated ‘cult classic’ Tron. What I could discern of the plot seems to involve a young, handsome, rich chap who lives in a lockup by a river and pines for his lost father – a badly animated version of Jeff Bridges. His motorbike-riding, corporation-baiting hijinks seemingly borne from a fond remembrance for the moments of tortuous and confusing exposition he shared with his plastic-faced father earlier in the movie.

Tron wasn’t exactly Dickens, and this attempt to contrive a narrative for a sequel set twenty years down the line is no better. Suffice it to say that Jeff Bridges creates a computer-based world he can visit, then he sires a moody, disaffected, bike-riding progeny before promptly buggering off – never to be seen again.

But guess what? Yes, that’s right. Old Jeff isn’t dead. That would be a lousy movie. Or at least a different lousy movie than this one. No, he’s trapped in his own virtual playground, which has become a terrifying police-state run by a malevolent copy of himself with another of those badly animated faces. It’s all perfectly straightforward at this point.

For reasons that shall remain slightly mysterious (I’m not being coy, the film just doesn’t do a great job of explaining), all-grown-up-now Jeff Jr winds up in said digital dystopia and must rescue his real, beardy, meditating dad from the clutches of his badly rendered doppelganger.

If you’re following so far, well done. You’re about twenty minutes into the movie and things are looking good for you. Don’t worry though, because at this point anyone sane should give up trying to work out what the hell’s going on and just stare at the screen. From here on in the storyline goes very Matrix Reloaded. There’s lots of chat about sentient programs, acronyms are bandied around, and there’s a truly horrific scene involving some weighty-but-unintelligible exposition (“the ISOs hold the key to advances in medicine, history, science!”) and clunky attempts at humour (“do you know Jules Verne? What’s he like?”). Still at least Olivia WIlde looks pretty in a neon jumpsuit.

At least that bit comes after a brief detour out of bonkersville and into the only realm where Tron Legacy makes any sense; the action scenes. There’s lots of neon, some Matrix-style slow-motion and 3D that rivals Avatar in it’s jaw-dropping majesty. CGI Jeff Bridges’ botoxed face notwithstanding, Tron Legacy pushes pixels around the screen better than anything you’ll have seen in a long time.

The action is all the better for Daft Punk’s magnificent score. It’s a work of genius, and undoubtedly the best thing about the whole movie. Fusing the dark, brooding orchestration of Hans Zimmer’s recent reinvention (Inception, The Dark Knight) with the French duo’s usual pounding basslines and catchy synth hooks delivers a soundtrack that deserves to be Oscar nominated far ahead of everything the Academy decided to put on their shortlist (The Social Network, really?). Honestly, if you see Tron Legacy at a screen with a decent sound system (I’d recommend the BFI Imax in Waterloo) it’s worth the price of admission simply for the aural delight of the musical accompaniment.

Sadly the tunes have to stop eventually, and then dialogue takes over. This is not a good thing. The script is leaden, the characters are at best bland, and the exposition is seemingly never-ending. It really does hit all the same bum notes as the second Matrix film. There’s even a scene where our hero is led to a nightclub by a buxom beauty to be betrayed by a camp over-the-top European villain. Or was that Matrix Revolutions. I get confused. So it seems does Michael Sheen, whose excruciating performance in that particular scene is an ample reminder that even the actor behind Brian Clough and David Frost can pick a bum role from time to time. I’ll not spoil the details, suffice it to say that you’ll want him to go straight back to doing earnest impressions of minor British celebrities the second he minces onto screen with his white hair and plastic cocktail umbrella.

From then on I simply gave up. It’s not to say I didn’t enjoy some of what followed. The effects really are tremendous, and writ large on an Imax 3D screen they, and the lovely Olivia Wilde, are more than what passes for Friday-night entertainment in my world. Heck, it’s even got Bruce Boxleitner in it. What’s really disturbing is that his performance may well be the best on screen. If Captain Sheridan is out-acting Jeff Bridges, something is very, very wrong.

Tron Legacy is director Joseph Kosinski’s debut feature. I had hoped to discover that he’d spent his previous career making music videos. That way I could wrap things up with a clever comment about how this movie is best treated as a two hour Daft Punk MTV special. Sadly it turns out his background is in TV ads. Oh well, I’ll stick with my point – even though it makes no sense whatsoever – which I suppose is just like Tron Legacy. How apt.

6/10

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