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December 25, 2010

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Review: Tron: Legacy

Posted by on Dec 25, 2010

Twenty-eight years.  In a (cruel, cruel) world that gives us a Shrek sequel annually, that’s a long time to wait for another Tron.  When the entire internet buzzes over even the most unsubstantiated of rumors regarding our favorite film franchises, it’s ironic that Tron has (for the majority of the previous three decades) been largely ignored by a culture it was, in many ways, instrumental in forming.  That’s because a Tron sequel was never a likely prospect.  Until the TR2N (as it was then called) teaser was unleashed on an unsuspecting SDCC crowd, we didn’t even know what we were missing.  And, with anticipation building steadily over the previous two years, Tron: Legacy is finally upon us.  But, the more I see people asking “was it worth the wait?”, the more I’m convinced that we’re all asking the wrong question.

Garrett Hedlund stars as Sam Flynn, the son of our erstwhile protagonist, Kevin Flynn (played again by Jeff Bridges).  The resemblance between Hedlund and Bridges (circa ’82) is strong, physically and otherwise.  But, while the elder Flynn’s charming arrogance and rebel attitude stemmed from a mixture of his own programming proficiency and his betrayal at the hands of ENCOM’s Ed Dillinger, Sam initially comes off as a petulant, rich brat.  While he clearly enjoys the earnings from his majority share of ENCOM stock, he takes no responsibility for the company’s unethical business practices.  And, though skilled with computers, he dropped out of Caltech.  The reason for Sam’s behavior, his inability to cope with the disappearance of his father, is ultimately what leads him to investigate a slim lead in the now defunct Flynn’s Arcade.

The grid in which Sam finds himself is vastly different from the one viewers will remember from the original film.  Ruled by the despotical Clu (Codified Likeliness Utility), the grid is now a mixture of police state and post-apocalyptic wasteland, replete with the violent and sexual excesses of the Roman Empire.  The action sequences in the film, including old favorites like the disc game and light cycles, are numerous and incredibly well done.  Though hyper-kinetic, they never descend into the confused realm of the frenetic that seems to be so popular in current action movies.  Enough good things cannot be said about Daft Punk’s score, so I won’t try.  And, ultimately, the story does it’s job.  Sam has his personal journey, reconciling himself with the shadow of his father (under which he has always lived) and the actual man his father turned out to be, while maturing into a hero in his own right.  T:L pays homage to its predecessor, while tying up all of the “loose ends” from the first film and leaving room for a (hopeful) third entry to the franchise.

To recall one of the themes of Tron: Legacy, an accurate perception of the present demands an understanding of the past.  The original Tron, a film with a $17M budget, grossed only $33M in North America.  Critics’ reactions, like ticket sales, were tepid.  When Variety reviewed the original film, it declared that “Tron is loaded with visual delights but falls way short of the mark in story”.  Sound familiar?  Every negative review I’ve read of T:L has covered the same territory.  In response, I can only ask, what were you expecting?

And I don’t mean that in a bad way.  I say this as a huge fan of the original film, but Citizen Kane it ain’t.  As part of my brain’s training regimen for T:L, I rewatched Tron fairly recently.  What I found was a film with some very cool concepts and (what were at the time) groundbreaking visuals that is, above all else, fun.  Were Tron (or its sequel) the output of a CLI, the input would most certainly have been “entertain audience”.  To that effect, I can’t call Tron: Legacy anything other than an unequivocal success.  It met, and far exceeded, all of my incredibly high expectations for what a Tron film should be.

  • I saw Tron recently, and I have to say that this is exactly how I feel about it…. Was it a blockbuster? No, but was it entertaining with a good sense of respect for the original? Hell yes

  • So Tom, I know you were actually the one who linked me to Massawyrm’s review on Ain’t It Cool (http://www.aintitcool.com/node/47791 ), but I’m gonna have to say that I really agree with him. Just because the references to larger themes weren’t more blunt or direct doesn’t mean they weren’t there. We’re talking about an adventure movie that managed to subtly tell a story about both freedom of information and Religion with a capital R. Even if you didn’t happen to agree with the message the movie was sending, it was, in fact, sending nuanced messages about these things. So when people say there was no story, I take a deep breath and prepare to explain that, actually, there were several, they just weren’t screaming at you from the screen to be noticed.

    Also, I’m a huge John Milton nerd, so I couldn’t help but notice the myriad references to Paradise Lost, specifically the conflict between CLU and Flynn as being modeled after the one between Lucifer and God. Sure, some of the comparisons might be far-fetched, like CLU viewing his mission as a greater truth that his creator has lost sight of, or making war on his creator’s world, or seeing creatures with free will (the ISOs) as imperfections. But what sealed the deal for me was the trigger for CLU to have that flashback of his early conversation with Flynn about their mission: it was a silver apple. Methinks the moviemakers knew exactly what they were doing.

    • Tom

      Concur.