Having waited for months to see this touted 3D blast-from-the-past escape flick, I knew I had unconsciously built it up as a life-changing experience. Yet all of this excitement was consciously tempered by the suspician that it would be built on a flimsy plot, which it was. In any case, I gave myself completely to the film and left the theatre feeling like I had been on a roller coaster that was fun but made my stomach hurt a little--for the conscious tempering didn't reach my unconscious enough I guess and the disillusionment was a bit hard to take.
Breaking it down: The plot was actually well-designed but the lack of investment in key elements and character development was atrocious and left the scenes that should have sucked my very soul in with expert, CGI vacuum force relatively flat and unimpactful. I was totally into the gaming, the riding around, the amazing magic wands that turned into vehicles and flying machines. I was completely surrendered to the make-believe world that made total escape into the film nearly impossible to avoid. I was there and so were a lot of people. But getting us there isn't enough and I feel almost upset about that, that the opportunity was wasted to really make a winning film.
Here are my deeper thoughts. First scene, we see young Sam Flynn, (as he ages played by Garrett Hedlund) in his bed, playing with action figures as his father, Kevin (Jeff Bridges in CGI) takes this opportunity to explain part of the plot to him. Okay, so a movie has to be squeezed into an hour and half these days, and I want to forgive the shameless scene multitasking, but I know a lot of film teams will work their tails off to somehow finess this given the time limit.
Within minutes, Kevin jumps on his motorcycle and peels out of sight--we later find out through the television news that he has gone missing. Sam's grandparents are in the opening two scenes, and they take over in raising him but I don't think I hear them say anything except when grandma says "Sam, you need to eat." We are then abruptly whisked to the future, where Sam is driving his dad's bike, which he fixed up. He's on a mission to break into Encom, the software company his father owned and the one being taken over by dorky-slick bad guys and a snobby tech guru, all on massive ego trips. The only (non-caricatured) member of Kevin's original business team at this point is Alan Bradley (played by the still devastatingly handsome Bruce Boxleitner).
Sam fudges a global announcement that Encom stocks will be traded in Japan and then leaps off the top of the company skyscraper to test his parachuting skills, all before going home to have a Coors promo moment at his bachelor pad. (As if this movie wasn't going to make enough money.)
Alan shows up at his decked-out, grunged-up, try-to-look-like-I-don't-try abode and they discuss the company and obviously unfold a bit more of the plot for us. Alan explains that he got a page from a number he hadn't seen in 20 years, from Kevin. Sam is totally indignant, as any abandoned child would be, about the company, about Alan's advice, about everything (and this I found to be one of the only realistic character development threads through the film). Yet he decides to take Alan's advice to visit the old archade where Kevin's page originated, anyway.
He enters the haunted old place, wipes dust off machines, kicks a jukebox into playing Journey and Eurythmics--giving us a moment to sink into nostalgia about the 80s--and then finds a secret passage into an office where he clicks a few buttons, is zapped by a lazer and enters Tron.
As I alluded in the beginning, I knew this would be so slapped together in some ways so I forgave the leap of techno-genetics and lazers changing human form so they can skip dimensions, etc. I forgave all the stuff any scientist would itch like a rash because I wanted the thrill. So I suggest people do this, too, if they want anywhere near their money's worth.
Anyway, so Sam's in Tron and he gets sent to play games and meets some girl and the action starts and it's a good lot of fun. However, I still feel like I don't know Sam enough to really love him. I like him, I get what the film makers want me to think of him but everything happened so fast until that point that I am kind of like ah well, whoever wins, wins. I'm not on his side because I don't love him.
Soon enough he's put in a life-threatening situation and is rescued by a mysterious driver who is assumed to be a man but then pulls her helmet off to be a perfect, black-bob-donning woman, Quorra (Olivia Wilde). A few UsWeekly moments later and we see Sam reunited with his father, who has taken up residence in a zen palace hidden in rocky terrain across the black sky from where his clone, Clu (CGI Bridges), is busy being a dictator and plotting the complete take over of Tron and eventually Earth.
The hollow character development continues throughout the movie and in my mind is its major downfall. I never get this sense of deeper connection to the pain of separation of father from son except through Bridges' expert actor looks, which isn't quite enough. I needed this built out more at the beginning and it wasn't and it would have carried so much more and brought so much more thrill to every other scene.
Soon we get to go into other fun scenes filled with action, and they're all good, shameless plot development through overstatements notwithstanding. We understand vaguely who Tron is if we have seen the original but I think, honestly, this is assumed because Bruce Boxleitener in CGI wasn't lingered on long enough (and in my opinion, you couldn't linger on that guy too long ... sorry, massive childhood crush revisited). Either that or he was in the moment I stepped out to use the bathroom.
There's a transition point that revolves a bit around society on Tron and a character named Zuse (Michael Sheen). And it's very cliche in its execution but moves the film and is kind of necessary to at least give us a sense that some societal order exists on Tron. Sheen's performance is fun but can't touch the cold heartedness of even Lex Luthor's (Kevin Spacey's) villain in Superman returns ... in all fairness, he really didn't have enough time to show us the character and develop his meanness. But we do get the sense of how he pimps himself out, which I guess is good for something.
The end of the film drags as Kevin, Sam and Quorra ride toward an exit portal, converse, develope the plot through rough script and hint at zen and meditation. By the way, I adore the Buddhist current that Kevin Flynn's character interjects throughout the film--the emphasis on letting go of perfection to find it in front of you. This helped me to feel that the experience was salvagable--grease on the wheels of the roller coaster if you will and a nice swift lift up at the end.
If you want an escape, this is your film. If you want to be emotionally invested, go see something else--I hear Black Swan is good.
PS: Remember this?