Women are wary of this movie. One-syllable titles invariably invoke mistrust in girls. Tron – a word that sounds like a laser gun firing – sounds boyish, and boring, if you don’t have balls. The intestinal appeal of the “light-bike”, so central to Tron’s allure, is lost if you don’t instinctively make a “dewww-hrrrr” noise as you imagine it… if your inner-small boy doesn’t yearn to drive in perfectly straight lines, peeling off strips of colour like an outlaw tape dispenser. Tron’s world seems facile and nonsensical to girls. It’s a world dreamt up by boys, for boys, where the twin priorities are fighting and racing. Even the colour scheme is masculine: black and blue and heat-seeking red.
No room for ovaries here.
Twenty years after whiz-kid computer programmer Jeff Bridges disappeared…in mysterious circumstances, his whiz-kid son (Garrett Hedlund) goes after him. It transpires, with somewhat dubious explanation, that Bridges has been sucked inside a computer and held prisoner by an algorithm. Bridge’s son is soon sucked inside the computer too, and there, like his father, he must do battle with the “evil” lines of codes in red, and defend the rights of the “good” lines of code in blue…all of whom appear as people, live in a city, and enjoy gladiatorial motorbike races, and dressing-up like the cast of Starlight Express. Victory means going home, and, presumably, getting Microsoft Windows © to work smoothly.
So two-dimensional is the world of Tron – so thinly imagined beyond the “They all dress like circuit boards!” idea – it’s like the script had to be finished before the writers’ moms called them in. Literally nothing has been thought through. The average episode of Star Trek is like a goddamn anthropology thesis next to this crap. With an entire imaginary world to play with, we are instead presented with a city borrowed from Flash Gordon, a bedroom borrowed from 2001, costumes and transport borrowed from Star Wars, and the kind of complex social structure you normally associate with stick people rendered in crayon. Director Joseph Kosinski is so guileless in his plagiarism from well-known movies, it’s as if he doesn’t realise the difference between paying homage and plain old copying. He seems so awestruck by his source material, the movie plays like someone tracing lines around the original.
Perhaps the clearest expression of what’s wrong with Tron is the CG Jeff Bridges… or rather, the CG someone-wearing-a-Jeff-Bridges-mask. Everything about this doppelganger is scary; like seeing your uncle in a dress. For a start, it’s a doppelganger! And even if you can get past that: it’s never convincing. If Jeff Bridges suffered from facial paralysis, sure, this would be a good likeness. But even when the CG Jeff is still, it’s unnaturally lifeless, stiff, and naggingly artificial. There’s simply no point to the character, other than arrogant effects wizards trying to show off. You can feel the movie straining, right from the start, to wedge CG Jeff into the plot, but, like so much of Tron… he’s a concept, not something you care about.
There isn’t room for acting. The movie knows as much about people as it does about science. Garrett Hedlund experiences so little surprise at being sucked inside a computer, it’s as if he knew he belonged on disc. Where there could be a touching relationship between father and son, instead there are two guys reading greeting cards at each other. No-one seems directed beyond an instruction to “wear this” and “look serious”, and scenes often flounder when light-bikes aren’t whizzing by. The intended romance between Garrett Hedlund and a leather-clad Olivia Wilde never goes anywhere… but it’s more through directorial indifference than lack of chemistry. Joseph Kosinski just doesn’t seem able to find the movie’s pulse.
If Tron ever had any prestige, it was because, in 1982, it made boys jealous. Scarcely anyone owned a home computer back then; and no-one owned anything that could replicate Tron’s graphics…so the movie was coveted. The sight of those light-bikes blazing perpendicular lines across a thrillingly black (computer screen black!) landscape was like glimpsing the future. Most boys would have given a canyon-full of pocket money to ride one of those bikes. Today…you’d be lucky if light-bikes raised a boy’s eyebrow. In the age of the Xbox, Tron feels like a relic wearing go-faster stripes. Even those who’ve waited – yearned – for Tron’s return will feel disappointed. Sorry Disney. You can’t amaze with yesterday’s ideas.