I’m really starting to think they hate us, the masters of the so-called entertainment universe. At the very least, they surely hold us in disdain and see us as inconvenient obstacles to their god-granted profits. If only we weren’t so insistent upon such things as a powerful story and resonant themes and embraceable characters — oh, wait. We’re not. Not on the whole. And so Tron: Legacy, the totally superfluous and eminently forgettable sequel to the groundbreaking 1982 flick Tron, will make a bloody fortune, not because it embodies any qualities deserving of such, but out of compelling nostalgia and, well, not much else.
This was my plan: I would refrain from revisiting the original film, which mostly remains with me for the now vague, mind-blowing impact it had on my then 13-year-old geeky self, until after I had seen and formulated my response to Legacy. But now I’m of half a mind not even to bother taking another look at that old film. I don’t want to spoil the hazy but pleasant memories I have of it. Can it be that the 1982 movie was just as soulless, just as ridiculously nonsensical as Legacy? I suspect not, but should I take the chance?
In 1982, Jeff Bridges’ Kevin Flynn was a computer game designer who got zapped into a virtual world of his own making. Thirty years later, he’s still there (never mind that he actually escaped in the original film), and while he has been stuck, he has shepherded this virtual world into something that bears no resemblance to much of anything we would recognize as a representation of cyberspace. That should be okay, since the server upon which Flynn’s electronic purgatory is running has been cut off from the outside world and so has evolved independently. But it still has no meaning for us, and neither the army of screenwriters nor first-time director Joseph Kosinski seem to think it’s important that there be one. It’s just so freakin’ cool to look at!
Except it isn’t. The spandex-and-neon aesthetic of the 1982 film has been upgraded to ooze even more smoothly into your visual cortex, but it still looks cheap and cheesy and like a relic of that era immediately post-Star Wars when everyone was desperate to manufacture that next sci-fi blockbuster. But like then, everyone now seems to have forgotten that Star Wars wasn’t Star Wars because of FX but because we fell in love with Luke, Han, and Leia.
It’s tough to love — or even to grudgingly like — Garrett Hedlund’s Sam Flynn, Kevin’s now grown-up son who follows Dad into VR-land. He’s a smug, deeply unappealing, empty shell of a contrived would-be hero. (Bonus negative points to the film for trying to make him heroic by having him release onto the Internet, free for download, the latest operating system from his father’s still-extant company, ENCOM. Three cheers for anarchic hackerism! But will Disney find it so adorable when pirates upload pristine digital copies of Tron: Legacy to the World Wide Web? Somehow, I doubt it.)
We’re supposed to care what happens in this cyber world, but it’s hard to understand the threat. Apparently, Clu, an avatar for Kevin (a disturbingly CGI-age-regressed Bridges), might somehow be able to lead an army of indistinctly dangerous VR soldiers into our “real” world and do some damage, but what threat this poses is unclear.
More than a decade after The Matrix utterly transformed popular metaphors for the virtual world, and for how the physical world might interact with the digital one, Legacy wants to be content to exist in an uninteresting alternate to that, one that, Kevin Flynn promised, would transform everything (“science, medicine, religion”) yet cannot even begin to make us appreciate how this might come about. Kevin rhapsodizes about “biodigital jazz, man,” so where the hell is it? I’d like to see a movie about biodigital jazz. It would require a helluva lot more imagination and intellectual adventurousness than Legacy can muster.
But computerized babes in spandex? You can rest assured that is most definitely a feature here. Though some might call it a bug.