Under two heads
Narrative and characters. This is a stupid movie, its plot vacuous to a degree hard to believe. Kevin Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges) has created a virtual world called the Grid, and set up an e-clone of himself called ‘Clu’ (played by a Plasticine Golem Caricature of Jeff Bridges) to run it. But Clu has turned into a fascist dictator, and Kevin has become trapped inside his creation. In the real world everyone assumes he is dead-- his now grown-up son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) says ‘he’s either high in some bar in
The twist that the page summoning Sam into the Grid was sent not by Kevin but by Clu, as a strategy for winning the game—in which case, you have to wonder why the first thing Clu does with the just-summoned Sam is immediately try to eliminate him in gladiatorial combat.
The portal between the Grid and reality. This, we're told, is located on the far horizons of the Grid (‘your father didn’t want stray programs wandering through it’, says Quorra—even though exit is only possible with the magic key of Kevin’s own disk) although Sam himself entered through this same portal, arriving not on the far horizons but right in the middle of Trontown. Tronto. Trondon. Why not go back the way he came?
A race of aboriginal e-beings (what? how? what?) who are somehow already there inside the Grid even though the Grid was invented by Kevin, and who are backstory-mentioned at one point in the movie only to be backstory-disposed-of two minutes later, a staggering genocide, leaving only one survivor, Quorra herself. Like -- what? What the fuck?
Tron himself. Unable either properly to revisit, or to let well alone, the film introduces the character ‘Tron’ in a desultory way, has him fight for the baddies, convert randomly to the goodies instants before being left, literally in midair, falling towards something, it’s not spelled out what: an awkwardly literalised loose end.
Sam, Dad and Quorn take an e-train across the wildnerness to reach the portal; but the freight being transported is people (e-people, at any rate), who are there to be turned into stormtroopers to invade the real world! Since operating in our world requires, you know, corporeal existence, and since these soldiers lack that, it’s never made clear how this will work. Presumably the narraton-gun, working in reverse, magically gifts strings of zeros-and-ones with calcium, blood vessels and blood, nerves, lymph, muscles, skin and all the rest of it.
A root problem is that once the film goes into the Grid it forgets that the Grid exists as the metaphorization of data, and treats it instead as just another place; a kind of high tech Faeryland. When he arrives, Sam is kitted out for gladiatorial combat by four slinky programs in fetish gear and stacked heels. This, we assume, is their function: they modify ('dress') programs that are designed to interact competitively ('fight') so as to enhance them. But later, after escaping the arena and returning to Trontown (Trondheim, Trumptron) Sam meets one of these slinky programs (Beau Garrett) wandering the streets under an umbrella. Because that’s what computer programs do, inside your laptop! They work for a portion of the day, and then they clock off to go wandering about the motherboard, idly looking to pick up other programs! And whisk them away to a fetish club!
The CGI-animated young Jeff Bridges is as poorly rendered as you have heard. But in a way I found the old Jeff Bridges more puzzling. For a long time I looked at him, thinking ‘you remind me of somebody … who is it?’ which is puzzling only in the sense that he didn't look like or patricularly remind me of Jeff Bridges. The penny dropped about halfway through; in this role he looks like Terry Gilliam, with a dash of older Rip Torn. It’s surprisingly distracting.
Look. This is a great movie. The design is great, the cinematography is great, the style is just superb. The pastiche of the latter scenes of 2001 in particular was beautifully incongruous; the machines and the costumes were supercool. Of course, the styling was retro; but that’s a feature, not a bug. Because SF only appears to be about the future; it is actually always about the past – Star Wars (also inventively pastiched in this movie) has more in common with the Dam Busters and medieval Japan than any future space empire; Philip K Dick writing in the 1960s and 1970s always about 1950s US suburbia, Dune taking us back to medieval Arabia rather than forward into the future. And so on. This movie understands that, at least on the level of its visual logic. And what a visual logic! The eye could feast upon the neon glory, exquisite design and natty devices for hours and hours, irrespective of the shoddy plot.