The story is bad. The dialogue is awful. The characterization flat and the thematic issues unclear. Yet despite all that, Tron: Legacy is oddly enjoyable — especially for those who grew up thinking the first was a technological marvel. This latest visit to the grid is every bit as visually stunning as the original was back in its day, if not more. Unfortunately it shares the original’s penchant for broken story construction.
Two points when it comes to Storytelling — one good, one bad. First the bad: there can be no greater cancer to engaging cinema than revealing backstory through exposition. Every beginner’s guide to screenwriting makes a point of denouncing this poisonous process and thus, no reason why Tron: Legacy should engage in it.
On the good side there are the homages to the original film and callbacks to 80’s videogame culture. A bonus star for incorporating Journey (using “Separate Ways” instead of “Only Solutions” was a good call). The design aesthetic, the characters both young and old, the familiar lines of dialogue, all work incredibly well in honoring the “legacy” of the human-trapped-in-a-digital-world genre. Best piece of advice is to watch the 1982 original first, as most of what happens feels designed to be another chapter rather than a standalone enterprise.
It is within the realm of Story Structure though that the film really crashes. Whether it be the veiled attempts to incorporate the Hero’s Journey model with its Refusal of Calls to Adventure and Threshold Guardians or its previously mentioned reliance on expositional backstory, Tron: Legacy fails to provide audiences with a coherent meaningful message. Was the issue at hand really C.L.U.’s drive for perfection? Then why not show it *rather than talk about it all the time. The same subject matter was explored in Black Swan, yet Natalie Portman’s character didn’t refer to it *once until the very end of the film. Talking about theme is not theme, it’s lazy theme.
When it came to the central characters, who was right in their approach? Sam? His father Flynn? If it was Flynn who changed, why did it come so early and why was it attained so easily? If it was Sam, what exactly was the issue he changed on? He was selfless from the beginning, dumping the source code for Encom’s operating system with his yearly act of rebellion. Where did he develop to? The character growth in this story defies the standards of emotional development.
On that note, why exactly did Tron himself change? His battle cry that he “fights for the users” earns a smile from kids born in the early-70s, but it was hardly earned within the confines of the story. Perhaps a second story could have developed between Flynn and Tron to match the one played out between Flynn and son? The opportunity was there to create something meaningful, but again, with so much backstory to tell there simply wasn’t enough time.
Tron: Legacy is a strange one. The story definitely does not work. It incites fidgeting and disbelief within the minds of audiences who desire more from story. But it is a visually compelling experience, and an enjoyable one to boot. Which brings up one last point: why does the film take itself so seriously? Not that it should have ventured into the realm of camp, but an infusion of comedy would have been a welcome surprise. Those laughs that do come receive a better reaction than they should, if for no other reason than the audience simply needs a relief from the seriousness of it all. After The Matrix, the stranger in a strange-digital-land story needs that comedy element to separate it from that Wachowski milestone.
If nothing else, Tron: Legacy introduces a brand new audience to the greatness that is Daft Punk.