In the beginning was the Creator. And when he had created the world, he created a man in his image that he might look after the world. But through the created man’s actions the world descended into disorder. So the creator sent his son, to fight against the fallen angel and restore the world to its original ideals.
Well, that’s a bit of an oversimplification, but it’s clear that Tron: Legacy is drawing on some Biblical influences even though its main character seems more interested in other religions (notably the Californian Surfer Dude dialect of Buddhism).
And while the visuals of the film – which take the original film’s darkness-and-neon stylings and use the latest CGI to make the virtual world seem far more solid than it ever did in the 1982 original – are superb, the plot is far more crudely sketched. The basic structure is pretty much the same as the original film – human gets pulled into a virtual world, is made to play video games until he escapes, brings down the bad guy and makes his way to the portal so that he can return to the real world.
In the original film, the bad guy was the Master Control Program and his right-hand program Sark, both played by David Warner (who also played the ‘real world’ bad guy, Dillinger). Here, the conceit is that the bad guy is Clu, a program created by Jeff Bridges’ Flynn to oversee the computer world of the Grid. Brought into being just after the events of the 1982 film, Clu looks as Bridges did back then. The computer-generated face (achieved by scanning Bridges as he is now using motion capture, then rendering CGI onto the face of a body double) doesn’t quite work, though. Much like the original film, the idea is far better than current computers can execute. Clu is effective in moments of extreme emotion, from laughter to rage. Where it fails is where Bridges, and all good film actors, excel: the expression of emotion through doing nothing, only a vague flicker crossing the face in ways that a computer algorithm can’t compute.
To be fair, that artificiality can be explained away by the fact that Clu is a computer program. Unfortunately, though, it’s also used to ‘de-age’ Bridges in a number of flashback sequences that just draw further attention to its drawbacks. The opening scene – set several years after the first film, with Flynn relating the story to his young son – is completely derailed by an obvious CG effect planted slap bang within a very human moment.
Let’s be fair – the original film wasn’t exactly known for its great insight, but for effects that pushed the boundaries of what was possible. Tron: Legacy does that too, but to a much lesser extent – and is less enjoyable as a result.