17. Tron Legacy

Speaking of a collection of cool ideas and flashy visuals…

Tron Legacy is a visual movie. And I mean that as a full-throated compliment – it’s stunningly well realized as a big-picture event, with near-perfect special effects (I’ll give it a pass on the young Jeff Bridges effect), beautiful uber-modern monochromatic design, and some of the best 3-D since Avatar. If movies are supposed to take you into another world, then this one more that fits the bill. I just wish the world it took you to were a little more vibrant.

To be fair, almost the entire movie takes place inside a computer game, so if everything feels a little wooden, that’s part of the experience. But the lack of real interaction proved a great deal more wearing than I would've thought. When Michael Sheen bursts onto the screen two-thirds of the way through as a shady gay nightclub owner, I couldn’t believe how relieved I was that one of the characters was finally showing some personality.

No offense to Garrett Hedlund, who seems to be a solid young acting talent, but he’s not given much to do here. The film leaves him out to dry, endlessly staring blankly at green screens as a succession of massive visuals are superimposed around him. Olivia Wilde has a nice turn here as a computer program seeking to understand humanity, and Bridges gives his reluctant-father role all the personality he can muster, but his quasi-Dude persona seems grating in this cold, blank world – the weight of it clamps down on the viewer, and we come to expect each line to be delivered with the same informative dullness as the one before.

More disorienting are the troubling plot holes. Major structural questions nag at the mind througout the film: How are these characters physically inside a computer program if the whole thing fits on one data card? Where did they get the food that they’re eating? And (spoiler alert) how can a computer program possibly leave the game and become a human being in the real world?

But all this I can handle, as long as once these characters are in the world, they remain true to whatever logic the world necessitates. But with each turn, things only get more confusing. What makes these programs turn evil – and then back – without explanation? Why would a computer program takes bribes? If every piece of important information you own is on a round disc, why do you use it as a weapon and throw it at people? And if the portal home is so hard to get to, why is there a train that goes straight there? (I wasn’t the only one to notice that one).

I’m a sucker for event movies, and flashy visuals make it easy to get my attention. But for me to go home with a smile on my face, they’ve got to find a way to be more than that.