When we first started writing about 'TRON: Legacy,' people immediately began comparing it to 'Avatar.' Both films were years in the making, and both were arriving in theaters on the same weekend, one year apart. Both were being touted for their breakthroughs in 3D technology months before release, and both have had fans itching to get at them for years.
We already know what happened with 'Avatar.' At first, people didn't know what was going to happen. Was your average moviegoer going to buy into an original film that, based on early 2D trailers, looked kind of like a video game? Well, it didn't take long to learn that, yes, people did want to see 'Avatar' -- like, a lot. The film quickly began building buzz and breaking records, fast on its way to becoming the highest grossing movie of all time. James Cameron was once again King of the World, and though it missed grabbing a Best Picture Oscar by this much, it certainly helped usher in this new wave of 3D movies with brutal force.
Meanwhile, 'TRON: Legacy' has been in the works for years, with footage screening at multiple Comic-Cons to rooms packed full of geeks all foaming at the mouths to see what this new 3D technology could add to the already fantastical world created by the original Tron back in 1982. Now that 'Avatar' has set the bar pretty high, would 'TRON: Legacy' -- the second film in a franchise known for its technological breakthroughs -- one-up James Cameron's beast a year after it took the world by storm? Or, is Cameron's crown still safe in his 3D kingdom?
Find out after the jump ...
Critics have already attacked 'TRON: Legacy' for its weak story, and they'd unfortunately be right. Because Disney obviously wants 'TRON: Legacy' to be the standard to which all future 'Tron' movies are judged, they've packed a ton of exposition into the sequel in order to make it so people don't actually have to watch the original. That might be good for people who never saw the original and want to learn everything they need to know from its sequel. But it ultimately hurts the film by taking up too much time from a plot that could've focused on fleshing out other things (like the whole ISOs subplot) while creating its own unique adventure instead of making something that's way too straightforward and derivative of other, more popular movies (like 'Star Wars'... and 'Back to the Future Part III').
'Avatar,' on the other hand, didn't exactly blow people away with its story either, which was full of every cliché in the book, plus some we forgot about until Cameron plopped them down in our laps. It did, however, feel more complete than 'TRON: Legacy' -- more thorough in its character arcs and plot threads. Paint by numbers? Yes. But at the end of 'Avatar' you felt as if you went though an exhausting journey. With 'TRON: Legacy,' you're hungry 10 minutes after it ends.
Look, Jeff Bridges is Jeff Bridges. The actor exudes coolness when he's up there on the screen, and his "Obi-Wan meets The Dude" persona in 'TRON: Legacy' is fun to watch for both new and old fans of the 'Tron' universe. Garrett Hedlund's Sam Flynn does a fairly decent Jeff Bridges (circa 1982) impression. He's your typical bad boy who has about as much depth as a kiddie pool, but the whole cocky rebel thing is a turn on for a lot of people. It's hard to fault Olivia Wilde's Quorra because her character is supposed to be pretty one-note, but not even the awkward-and-not-satisfying sexual tension between her and Sam was enough to make you care about either one (especially when you understand so little about them).
With 'Avatar,' you don't get much more out of Sam Worthington. The guy delivers lines like he just woke up from a night full of keg stands and angry text messages from the girlfriend he stood up. His Jake Sully is kind of a dick, and you'd never want to hang out with the guy, but he wins sympathy points with the wheelchair. Plus, his relationship with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) is a lot more emotionally satisfying.
P.S. Sigourney Weaver kicks ass.
The 3D Technology
Like 'Avatar,' 'TRON: Legacy' is a film best digested on one of those big-ass IMAX screens in 3D. The glasses are ridiculously bulky and annoying, but the moviegoing experience is dramatically heightened. There's maybe only one to five films per year that you really have to see in IMAX 3D in order to get the most out of them, and both 'Avatar' and 'TRON: Legacy' fall squarely into that category. Unfortunately, neither film holds up quite as well in 2D, and the re-watchability factor on both is low. Like, "I guess I'd stream that if the cat falling asleep video still doesn't load properly" low.
The 3D in 'Avatar' was successful because Cameron really exploited depth of field throughout, almost obsessively, and the result is pretty breathtaking at times. 'TRON: Legacy' also uses depth of field as a way to wow the audience, but it works better in 'Avatar' because a) James Cameron is, quite frankly, the LeBron James of the technology, and b) Pandora is a more relatable setting than The Grid. The forests, floating mountains and waterfalls of Pandora are prettier, aesthetically, than the cold, dark minimalism of The Grid. Not to say the latter isn't cool to watch in 3D (because it most certainly is, especially for gamers and people who like black-light posters), but 'Avatar' just did it better, period.
We could keep adding categories, since there are a lot more ways to dissect a film than by its story, its characters and its 3D technology. But we'll save you the time and just say that 'Avatar' is the better moviegoing experience, and the better movie. Flat out: You will not hate 'TRON: Legacy' at all, and if consumed in IMAX 3D, 'TRON: Legacy' will definitely give you a fun time at the movies. But some of you may spend more time discussing its flaws afterward than stroking its ego.