x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Tron: Legacy suffers from poor storytelling

Instead of an Avatar-like romp, Tron: Legacy suffers from reverse engineering that put revenue streams first, story last.

Legacy. While it was expected to lure audiences smitten with the likes of Avatar, Tron's special effects, for what they are, count for little amid weak storytelling.
Legacy. While it was expected to lure audiences smitten with the likes of Avatar, Tron's special effects, for what they are, count for little amid weak storytelling.

Tron: Legacy Director: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde
**

Finally, nearly 30 years after the original early 1980s computer adventure Tron, comes a sequel for which, well, not that many people have been waiting. For the miracle of Tron: Legacy, a monster blockbuster from Disney, with a rumoured production budget of more than $200 million (Dh734.6m), is one of marketing prowess alone.

Initial special-effects test footage from the film caused a storm among sci-fi fans at San Diego's Comic-Con in 2008, and ever since then the studio marketing machine has gone into overdrive, throwing a reported $150m at the movie, hinting that it is destined to become "this year's Avatar", and using the power of internet hype to suggest that Tron has been a serious cultural force for three decades.

The reality, of course, is somewhat different. The original Tron was a financial and critical disappointment when released in 1982, overshadowed by that year's superior Blade Runner and ET, and mired in its own love of whizz-bang aesthetics over narrative sense. The new movie, ironically, is equally confused. It begins with a miasma of exposition, where we learn that hero and computer games programmer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) has been sucked inside his own computer mainframe since the late 1980s, leaving behind an orphaned son called Sam (Garrett Hedlund). The latter, now in his 20s, likes riding his motorbike very fast, doing dangerous base-jumps from skyscrapers at night, and hacking into Encom's computer systems to ruin the plans of its greedy board of directors.

Sam, in other words, is the ideal candidate to be accidentally beamed into the alternate universe of the mainframe, one which will require bouts of dangerous gladiatorial combat plus an intricate knowledge of computer systems. The beaming itself, one of many conceptual sore-points in the film (a human body transmogrified and shot down an ethernet cable is very Mike Teevee from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory), occurs barely 20 minutes into the film, and from here the action takes place entirely inside the mainframe - which is a gloomy, cloud-blackened world, where women wear latex and thigh-high boots and men look mostly like motorcycle couriers.

This world, we discover (the exposition rarely stops), is run by a megalomaniacal computer programme called CLU, which is represented by a computer-generated simulacrum of a thirtysomething Bridges. The latter on-screen effect, created by the team behind The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, has been much-vaunted by the makers of Tron: Legacy as a possible future for movie acting, and could apparently inspire the computer-generated revival of actors long since dead. Again, the reality is far removed and involves a vaguely Jeff-Bridges-looking automaton, with impassive, seemingly rubber facial features, and expressionless gestures - literally, a notch above Shrek.

And onwards rolls the exposition wave where, it transpires, Shrek-Jeff is planning to enter the real world with an army of computer programmes that will somehow assume human form (again, how?) and take over the world. Thankfully, Sam soon finds the real Bridges, playing his father Kevin, who has been hiding in a stylish mountainside lair, and only together, and with the aid of Kevin's digital-babe side-kick Quorra (Olivia Wilde), can they defeat the evil CLU.

Along the way, there is some hand-to-hand combat in a giant plexiglass arena, where opponents in PVC jumpsuits throw killer Frisbees at each other, and then leap onto giant plastic motorbikes and race across limitless horizontal planes. And Michael Sheen also pops up, giving the closest thing the movie has to a performance, playing a nightclub owner who is part 1970s-era David Bowie and part Malcolm McDowell from A Clockwork Orange. But nothing here, at any point, ever feels as if it's part of an entire narrative whole. Instead, from the hands of the commercials director and former architect Joseph Kosinski (here making his feature debut), what we have is a movie that seems to have been reverse engineered from that very first Comic-Con test footage back in 2008. It is a film that perhaps started with effects, then moved outwards into video games, then spin-off TV (a series Tron: Uprising is already in production), then merchandising, and then finally, when all revenue streams were covered, they possibly tried to tie it all together with a story. Which, of course, didn't work.