It would be best to lead with what works with this film, which is easier to enumerate than what does not. What does work, at least a majority of the time is the visual effects, the score is kind of cool too. This film is a visual effects artists’ playground but simultaneously the enemy of narrative. You should have seen it coming as few and far between are the positive reviews that lead with “The effects were so great.” However, as impressively striking as some of the visual sequences are some are bothersome also.
Those that are bothersome are mainly the computer-generated Jeff Bridges. Granted that in the first sequence they do a good job of camouflaging the CG-ness of the younger version of Bridges but having to look at a CG Bridges under the guise of Clu is very annoying after an extended period of time.
The issues for the story, which faintly flits about behind a computer generated masquerade, begin almost from the minute that answers start being provided. The mystery of “how did Sam (Garrett Hedlund) get here, why is his father still here and why can’t he leave?” is intriguing enough until you start to get answers.
The problem with the answers is how they are written. It’s as if the screenwriters mistook being confusing for sounding smart. As a matter of fact there’s a ten minute stretch of the film wherein none of Jeff Bridges’ lines are entirely coherent.
There’s nothing wrong with a veil of confusion being thrown over a subject matter and the film either doesn’t try to answer the questions or does it best to answer them. This film does neither. It’s neither the kind of film that relishes ambiguity of meaning like some of Bergman’s work or tells an involved narrative but explains everything painstakingly like Inception. It just sort of sits there and you stare at it because it’s there and you don’t know why you stare at it but you just do. Which is saying something, that is that it’s not boring but it is most definitely insipid.
Moving on you glean whatever you glean from half-truths and gorilla dust, to quote the late great Phil Hartman, the basic plot is that Bridges’ character created an alter-ego when he was less wise than he is now and his megalomaniacal tendencies lead Clu to rule The Grid, this video game world, with an iron fist. And then? The stakes never seem that high because Kevin (Bridges) is reticent to leave at first even though it’s quite clear how it can be done. Furthermore, there’s little incentive for us to get emotionally involved because the laser light show has to start as soon as possible and therefore the bond and the heartbreak of the separation of father and son are never really firmly entrenched except in a very superficial way.
This is the epitome of a “Hit Me Movie” in the worst kind of way. You end up bathing in slick imagery and when it’s done you don’t feel cleansed or refreshed on the contrary you feel dirty.