3-D razzle-dazzle and eyeball-taxing pixel porn.

The original Tron may not have aged well over the past 28 years, but it still deserves props for breaking cinematic ground. In an unprecedented achievement, 16 minutes of Tron were generated solely by something called a "computer" (circa 1982, I'm told the term was "steam-powered mechanized abacus"), and the film, according to Stanford film scholar and world-class pontificator Scott Bukatman, still constitutes "the most sustained cinematic attempt at mapping cyberspace."

Sponsored
The Prom, playing May 31st-June 19th at The 5th Avenue Theatre
The Prom is a musical comedy about big Broadway stars on a mission to change the world.

Tron: Legacy, the new high-budget, high-gloss sequel, is not without its own innovations. It marks the first time a $150-million-plus tent pole was green-lit based solely on the response to test footage screened at the San Diego Comic-Con. (At the time, it bore the incredibly stupid title of TR2N, which I believe is pronounced "tur-too-un.") By that same token, this new Tron's indulgent 3-D razzle-dazzle and eyeball-taxing pixel porn are hardly revolutionary. Those who made it through all three interminable hours of Avatar will be well prepared for the onslaught of simulated humanoid FX. As Clu, a digitally de-aged Jeff Bridges motion-captures his way through the Uncanny Valley and into your nightmares, mugging with phony features that look rubbery and puttied-over.

But as artificial as much of Legacy (perhaps appropriately) appears, director Joseph Kosinski can at least be credited for realizing much of the film's cyberspace trappings through practical means like impressive, large-scale sets. All of the silly, spongy costuming from the original has been replaced with leather fetish garb and armored onesies with Daft Punk LED piping. This attention to detail and effort at verisimilitude coincides with the film's overall attempt at being a Very Serious, Weighty, and Emotional Picture, even though it's based on something that was outgrossed by its own video-game adaptation, and which was inherently goofy and insubstantial in the first place. Whereas Tron '82 had designs by French surrealist comic artist Moebius, this film opts for the safer, less groovy touch of Neville Page, who worked on Avatar and famously designed the Cloverfield monster. It's an aesthetic decision in keeping with the film's overall post–Dark Knight dourness ("Why so serious?").

Legacy's stubborn po-faced-ness only emphasizes the ridiculousness of its plot, which has Sam Flynn invading "the Grid" in search of his long-lost dad, Jeff Bridges's programmer/ software developer/pit-stained arcade owner Kevin Flynn. After arriving, Sam is subjected to periodic doses of needlessly complex exposition, detailing the rise and fall of Papa Flynn's digital dreamland, whatever happened to that "Tron" guy, and a somewhat troubling backstory about "primitive" digital indigenes (in the film's lexicon of arbitrary techno-babble, they're "isomorphic algorithms"). All this nonsense exists to justify what basically amounts to a classic chase film structure, albeit one misshapen by the weight of a convoluted mythology. That all this world-building is intended to bear forthcoming cultural fruit doesn't keep it from seeming as conspicuous and detrimental as a string of bad code. Disney seems to believe that unless the Tron property is treated with the utmost seriousness, its plans for a television spin-off, theme-park ride, and future sequels might not pay off.

Garrett Hedlund's performance as Sam should be the core of the movie, but he plays the role with such a half-assed lack of range that he fails to make an impression amid all the CGI bombast. Olivia Wilde is more fun as Quorra, the chaste pseudo love interest who occasionally cackles playfully à la Lori Petty.

Michael Sheen's turn as the Grid's Steve Rubell equivalent, on the other hand, oozes glam-rock sex appeal, but the most engaging onscreen presence is, unsurprisingly, Jeff Bridges. Given free rein to cut loose as a hoary, offbeat New Ager, Bridges's elder Flynn serves as the perfect identification character for Legacy's largest target demographic: stoners. Flynn is not above reacting to the film's flabbergasting array of Big Action Set Pieces with foggy-headed awe, and the script supplies him with all kinds of hilariously slangy dialogue ("It was bio-digital jazz," "Radical, man," and "You're messing with my Zen thing, man"). In one astonishing bit of unintentional meta-commentary, Flynn wonders aloud, "What happened to you, Tron?"

Tron got splashier, Tron got longer and more ridiculous, but the truth is that Tron hasn't changed that much. Tron: Legacy rivals version 1.0's overabundance of superficiality and spectacle. It's more about Mouse House showmanship than depth of character, nuance of narrative, or philosophical concerns related to the "digital frontier." It may not be the most ludicrous representation of cyberspace—that distinction probably belongs to Worf's begrudging participation in Robin Hood role-playing on the Star Trek holodeck—but it's definitely one of the most uninspired. The degree to which Tron's imagined cyberspace has been diluted into an even more mundane, stylized facsimile of our "real world" is hugely disappointing. The Grid replicates a standard megalopolis, and its program populace is seen unwinding at dance clubs, bumping into acquaintances on rainy streets, and sitting down for supper (of what, who knows? In the original, one of the longest scenes is Flynn and two digital bros greedily slurping from a luminescent reservoir, as if it were the Grid's only naturally occurring fount of cyberspace Four Loko). One imagines we'd be privy to shots of the programs folding their laundry if the plot demanded it.

Sure, Tron: Legacy is more exciting than watching clothes-folding, but it nevertheless falls flat, undermined by its own terminal earnestness and dearth of imagination. It carries on Tron's "legacy" of lacking substance, but also (ironically for a 3-D film) it really lacks depth. recommended

This article has been updated since its original publication.

Sponsored
Day In • Day Out returns this summer, August 12th thru 14th!
Featuring The National, Mitski, Mac DeMarco and more! Full lineup and tickets at dayindayoutfest.com