dir: Joseph Kosinski
[img_assist|nid=1383|title=Wow, it's like looking into the recent past|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=643]
Great looking film, seriously. It looks amazing. I loved every visual second of this phantasmagorical virtual shiny neon action science fiction apotheosis of computer programming.
It’s true. I play a lot of video games, I’ve watched a lot of movies, and this is a pinnacle of visual entertainment.
Oh, wait a second, I have to qualify something a bit further. I loved every single centimetre of visual real estate that didn’t involve humans or people talking.
Really, visually and aurally, thanks to an amazing soundtrack / score by Daft Punk, who have a curious cameo in full costume, so it could have been two Banksies instead for all I know, it’s amazing. But when the humans intruded, what with their annoying heads and flapping gums. The problem is when they start talking. And continue talking.
Even worse, when people say deeply stupid shit like “now that’s what I’m talking about” in a flick that probably cost a billion dollars to put together, it makes me wonder whether the studio is taking a diarrhoeic dump, wrapping it up in nanotechnological silk scarves and then singing “Happy Birthday” to me as it hands it over, expecting me to not only pay for it, but to be grateful about it as well.
The main character in this is truly terrible. I’ve never seen Garret Hedlund in anything before, and I’ll probably avoid him in future, but I really don’t have enough experience of him as a person or as an actor to know whether he’s genuinely terrible, or as bad as the material forced him to be. Because, truth be told, no actor, including The Dude, comes out of this with anything other than what should be profound embarrassment.
The Dude, being Jeff Bridges, has two roles in this flick. Seriously, he plays two characters. It makes some sense that Jeff Bridges is here, since he was in the original Tron, and he reprises the role of Kevin Flynn, the earlier movie’s human hero. The other role he plays is as the evil Clu, who, despite looking like he has a face full of putty and botox (digitally created), is more believable, better acted and has more believable motivations than the human character Jeff Bridges plays.
As this flick opens, ignoring anything that might have happened in the flick from 1982, Sam Flynn is a surly chap who owns most of the stock in the world’s dominant Microsoft / IBM type company called Encom. He owns it because his father, Kevin, has been disappeared these many years, and Daddy started the company. A text message sent to an old friend of Kevin’s, being Alan (Bruce Boxleitner), compels Sam to venture forth to an old video game arcade.
You know the ones, with the big boxy machines, sit down ones and uprights, flashing lights, 8-bit sound, ashtrays and Vietnamese dealers constantly asking you with their eyes and hand gestures whether you want drugs.
Good times, good times. But those days are gone, and so’s Sam’s daddy, and all he wants is some closure, or a hug, or some quarters to play video games, I’m not sure.
Then, in the grand tradition of stories dating back even further back in human history than 1982, even further back than Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass, Sam gets magically sucked into another realm. It is a wild and strange place. It’s mostly all black with neon lines everywhere.
It is… The Matrix.
Sorry, no, it’s called The Grid, but the principle is the same, no, wait, it’s not the same principle since humanity hasn’t been enslaved and tricked into thinking a virtual reality is actual reality. You know, like reality television tries and fails to convince people.
But, in the same way that obedient audiences don’t care about the lack of reality, the denizens of this virtual reality don’t care either. Everyone except Sam is a program. They’re programs, but they look like people. Or people-ish.
Immediately, Sam is forced, much like Jeff Bridges was in the first flick, to battle other programs in a complex and perplexingly obtuse gladiatorial combat using suspended courts, flung disks and shattering glass structures. It’s kind of like Wimbledon, just less dangerous.
His performance against these other programs brings him to the attention of a hooded figure whose clothes glow with an ominous orange colour. Surely, this can’t be a good guy, could it? A talent scout, a fight promoter, a porn director or a highly competent CPA with mad finance skills to pay the bills?
Nah, it’s, it’s dear old dad, whose CGI putty face hasn’t aged in 30 years. He greets Sam as only the villain in a sci-fi flick would, pretending to be who he is not, in the most thinly veiled threatening way possible.
This chap, who is called Clu, who rules this Grid realm with a digital fist, seeing as he is a copy of Kevin Flynn, knows everything that the real one does, it’s just that he’s turned his knowledge to evil rather than whatever passes for good in this virtual realm. Clu flings Sam to this realm’s digital equivalent of the lions, which is light cycles, um, these made up things that go real fast.
I can’t pretend that any of this makes sense even for seconds at a time. Anyone questing for knowledge or meaning in any of this is on a fucking fool’s errand that will only end in a scrunched up face perpetually frozen in the expression of confusion.
But what it does, if you accept it, if you allow it, is carry on with great speed and amazing graphics, and music that’s more interesting than the graphics, and delivers some pretty amazing action. The light cycle sequence from the first flick was pretty memorable at the time, and bled into pop culture for decades. Here they update it tremendously, with a sequence that is no less meaningless, but which looks utterly awe-inspiring. Improving on the flat arena of the original, here they operate, to think of something set on the X and Y axis dimensionally speaking, on the Z axis as well, taking full advantage of the advances in technology to deliver something amazing looking that does not and cannot have any emotional impact or intellectual engagement.
Could anyone possibly care if this great big galoot Sam gets knocked off his bike in some realm less real, less believable and less meaningful than Wonderland, or Disneyland, or Seaworld? No, but the speed and the staging of these ‘battles’ looks pretty amazing, and the way it’s put together, from an action perspective, I can’t argue with.
The inevitable next step from here is a last second rescue, and a meeting with his actual father, played by The Dude. I don’t mean Jeff Bridges, I mean Jeff Bridges playing The Dude from The Big Lebowski transported to a realm where quoting hippie bullshit and Eastern Philosophy makes even less sense here than it did there. He and Sam disagree about what they’re supposed to do, and whether Sam’s haircut is goofy, and how they should beat Clu.
Usually, he spouts Zen crap and says ‘Man’ a lot, in a way that suggests he was either really bored, that the script was really bad, or that the director couldn’t control him. It’s bad, bad beyond cringing, but Jeff Bridges has earned the right to give shitty performances in expensive flicks. He’s paid his dues. He's entitled.
Along for the ride, though I’m not sure who’s supposed to be riding her, is a girl-looking program (Olivia Wilde) who is more than that supposedly , being some kind of unique digital organism. I can’t begin to grasp what the fuck they were going for, but she’s some kind of female digital messiah who’s the last of her kind and who will save The Grid and humanity and some puppies from a sack in a river, too.
The funniest thing for me is that in scenes where she and Sam have to fight to protect themselves, she’s a pretty crappy fighter, and Sam’s just as bad, so they usually get their arses kicked. Of course, it’s done from a story perspective because they want an excuse for last minute rescues and triggering the next action scene, but it ultimately means to me how pointless most of these characters are.
Speaking of pointless characters, one character that sticks out like the largest pair of digital dog’s balls that have ever existed or been dreamt into creation, Michael Sheen, who has made a career out of playing serious characters in serious stuff and hack characters in crappy stuff, has finally found a way to top any overacting he’s done in anything, whether it’s a werewolf or the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
He plays some program called Castor or Castro, who actually masquerading as Zeus or Zuse, who is the one who’s supposed to help Sam. The performance is so fucking ludicrously over the top that it actually makes the other performances look worse, mostly because it’s so spirited and energised and camp and bizarrely insane. I get the feeling the director was telling people to do whatever the fuck popped into their heads. Whoever thought that Michael Sheen dressed as an even gayer Ziggy Stardust shooting white light out of his thin white duke walking stick was a good idea is either a genius or a stupid dirty homeless person they hired on a bet.
Or both, I guess, since they’re not mutually exclusive possibilities.
I can’t say that I was particularly enamoured with it, and I think it tells a stupid story in a pointless fashion, one which even though I understand as to what the makers say it means, I can’t for the life of me see how it’s meant to make any sense to anyone apart from schizophrenics, but I did enjoy watching it. I got something out of watching it, even as I decried it out loud for having the dumbest dialogue and script outside of an episode of Jersey Shore.
I mean, really, what’s it supposed to mean when Clu’s grand plan is revealed, and it’s something that couldn’t have made sense even to the people who wrote the screenplay? If we’re willing to suspend disbelief enough to accept that, for the purposes of these movies, a person could become digitised and transported to a virtual realm, populated mostly by programs that look like people, and walk around and talk and such, are we also meant to accept that somehow, these funky programs that look like people, but are just the equivalent of iPhone apps, that they could come out of this virtual realm and have, um, bodies and such?
Honestly, that’d be too dumb an expectation even for a kid’s movie aimed at really, really special kids. I mean mittens and special helmets on the special bus special.
Clearly I was completely unable to ignore the abject brainlessness of something that a lot of obvious intelligent people worked on enough to enjoy their pandering to the great unwashed masses. But I was still able to enjoy the visuals/aurals enough and the decent action sequences enough to ignore the screaming of the logic centres of my brain. Poor brain, you’ll need a documentary or two to recover.
5 times plus ca change, plus c’est meme chose even with bleeding edge technology out of 10.
“You're messing with my Zen thing, man!” – Tron Legacy