Review: TRON: Legacy (2010)

At the climax of TRON: Legacy, Jeff Bridges’ Kevin Flynn basically explains the theme of the film to his evil archenemy and digital double, Clu—and to any of us in the audience who didn’t catch on.  Flynn shouts: “The thing about perfection is that it’s unknowable.  It’s impossible, but it’s also right in front of us all the time.”  Flynn is telling Clu what is wrong with his tyrannical establishment and maintenance of the perfect system in the digital world, but Flynn is also implicitly saying that his own narrow-minded pursuit of perfection through computer programming obscured his view of the perfection in his son and their relationship.  Interestingly, obscured vision and a similarly narrow pursuit of perfection is the ultimate flaw in TRON: Legacy. Let me explain.

The movie is superficially superb.  First of all, it displays the best use of the 3D format since Avatar.  I was lucky enough to see TRON on IMAX.  As the mind-bending spectacles disorientate, excite, and impress us, we are transfixed by and absorbed into the visually distinct world within the computer.

Secondly, almost all of the special effects are seamless and convincing, even when witnessed six stories high.  The only thing that is a little off is the de-aged version of Jeff Bridges.  When this younger, fabricated version of Bridges is (or plays?) the villain Clu, it works sufficiently, because Clu is meant to be a digital clone after all.  It works worse when the de-aged Jeff Bridges is the young Kevin Flynn.  Knowing that we are supposed to be seeing a real breathing human being, we are unnerved by the imperfections, however slight they are.  That said, the overall film is a stunning visual achievement.

Thirdly, the awesome minimalist electronica score by French duo Daft Punk perfectly compliments the streamlined high-tech visuals of the world within the computer.  The soundtrack sounded great on the enormous theatre speakers!

Unfortunately, even though TRON: Legacy is technically excellent, other essential aspects of the film are mediocre.  Like a wondrous mesa-covered landscape that contains only stale water beneath the surface, the accomplished visual and audio elements of TRON mask an unimaginative plot and a tired father-and-son relationship.  Once the intoxicating effects of the eye candy have either burned out or worn off, we recognize the poor quality of certain fundamental elements of the story.  The filmmakers focused only on technical perfection, overlooking what is really most important in a movie.

My point can also be seen if we consider the cinematic allusion contained within the set decoration of Flynn’s digital world hideout.  Although the room’s blend of a high-tech unadorned white floor and ceiling with neoclassical furniture calls to mind the room at the end of David Bowman’s space trip in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the reference is merely empty replication, lacking the symbolism, mystery, and meaning that lie at the core of Kubrick’s masterpiece.

In short, TRON: Legacy is fun and shiny, but there’s not much else to it.  But, wow, is it ever shiny!

7 out of 10

TRON: Legacy (2010)

Directed by Joseph Kosinski; written by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz; starring Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, and Olivia Wilde.