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Review: Tron Legacy

Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Friday, December 17, 2010

27 years have passed since the summer of 1982 and the arrival of Tron. Much has been written about the film's most important historical point, that being the first true use of computer generated (CG) imagery for special effects. Today, CG has become commonplace in movies and even television shows. Tron's digital 1982 world may look as dated as an original Apple II computer does to an iPhone but its core idea -- a world existing inside the computer where beings lived and died fighting in gladiatorial video game arenas -- still has a strong attraction to a lot of us.

Director Joseph Kosinski and his creative team hold homage to the original Tron to the extent that they have reassembled all of what's fondly remembered from that imperfect '82 Disney movie. But don't think of Tron Legacy so much as a direct sequel. Instead, this is very much a reboot of the concept the same way that last year's Star Trek was for that franchise. And just as J.J. Abrams and his team wisely inserted actors and nods to the Shatner/Nimoy era of Trek, so this new Tron includes actors and nods to the original Tron.

Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) is the adult son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges). We learn at the start of the movie that after the end of the original Tron, Flynn went on to turn Encom into the offspring of Atari and Microsoft. But when the elder Flynn goes missing, little Sam grows up to have daddy issues. When Legacy really begins, Sam's one of those stereotypical blockbuster protagonists, the ones that rebel against the system but don't have a problem living off the inheritance of his Dad's stock options. Set up Sam's xtreme sports skills, have Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) send him off to his Daddy's rundown arcade, play a quick Journey song and off Sam is sent into The Grid, the digital world where Flynn Senior has been held captive by his electronic creation, Clu (played by Bridges and de-aged using CG that tries to push the edge of the artform.)

As a child that grew up in the 1970s and '80s, it's interesting the pulse that Tron Legacy has: it plays like a sci-fi movie from the era of the Planet of the Apes films, or even The Black Hole, Disney's strange space actioner from '79. There's action, drama and exposition scenes in Legacy that work mechanically but they're not played to us in the rush-rush-ADD lighting quick pace that so many mainstream action flicks do these days. And that works against Tron Legacy to an extent because when we're not watching a movie with a hyper narrative like Abrams Star Trek, we notice the clunking sound coming from the engine. With the new Trek, it moves so fast that you don't notice the clunking noise coming from the screenplay. With Tron Legacy, its slower pace drags you out of the picture and you're not as involved with what's going on with Flynn Junior and Senior. I don't know if Kosinki did this on purpose and he's making a sci-fi film from that late 70s-early 80s zone or if this is first time director jitters, but it's there and it prevents Legacy from rising itself up a level and truly engaging the audience as engaging popcorn fare. In one scene where Bridges' Flynn shows up to kick ass, it should have been a moment to let loose and to see Flynn the user do Jedi Master ass-kicking Tron-style. Instead, the moment swiftly fizzles out. Pfft.

Some of the stuff in Legacy is better than the rest. The two game sequences, a new disc wars battlezone and a great update on the lightcycle combat in which the 'cycle riders fight to the death in three dimensions, are precisely what I wanted to see in a Tron sequel (but so was the lightsaber fight between Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon and Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace, and look what the rest of that movie is.) The conceptual look of The Grid, or Tron world 2.0 as I'm gonna refer to it, is also aces and lives up to the original ideas first thought of by Moebius and Syd Mead. I've read criticism about Bridges as Clu, and how there's something off about the way young Bridges looks that's offputting. I agree, it's there, but it's not as distracting as you've heard from the other critics. If anything, Kosinski's idea to push the limits of today's CG by giving us a 1989 Jeff Bridges is just as ambitious as what Steven Lisberger did with creating his Tron. The technology to make older actors look younger is only going to get better, and it's here in Tron Legacy that you can mark the line between what really looked fake and what became indistinguishable. Young Jeff Bridges is to this FX plateau in movies as the T-1000 was to Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

One aspect that deserves its own separate commendation is Daft Punk's awesome soundtrack. It's Tron music for 2010, as appropriate for the material as Wendy Carlos' synth score was for the Tron of '82.

As for the performances, Hedlund does an adequate job as Mr. Hero in a Blockbuster meaning that his Sam Flynn has about the same range of emotional complexity as Sam Worthington's Jake Sully did in Avatar. Bridges plays his elder Flynn as a cypher when we're first introduced to him, then descends too closely into his Dude character as the movie progresses; we needed more Steve Jobs and less Big Lebowski. The two truly wonderful performances come from Michael Sheen as the Tron version of Ziggy Stardust, Castor; and Olivia Wilde as Quorra, the female lead. Wilde plays her game warrior with more emotional heart than anyone in the movie, and it works perfectly. Of all the characters she feels the most real, which is ironic since she was created inside a computer.

If Kosinski could have only worked harder to find a beating heart under Legacy's spectacular CG scenery then we'd truly have a fantastic sequel to the original film, one that overcame its predecessor's shortcomings. Neither fantastic nor a failure, after watching Tron Legacy you're left feeling that it wasn't time wasted but it wasn't as great as you had hoped it would be.

Review Score: 63 / 100

The Swollen Goi...
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Posts: 14343
Posted: 10 years 51 weeks ago

Saw it.  I agree with your review, generally.  

It's clear we're still deep in the Uncanny Valley.  I was distracted by young Flynn and Clu, even though I appreciated the effort they went to to try to make it work.  

I saw it in IMAX 3D.  The IMAX was a plus, and the 3D was a neutral.  Yet again, I find myself wondering why it was necessary.  It didn't add anything to the experience for me, and I began to get a headache toward the end.  Also, the movie switches back and forth between 2D and 3D a lot (more often than the people who are reporting that they pulled a Wizard of Oz to distinguish the real world from The Grid would have us believe; there's a hefty bit of 2D in the computer world).

Lots of obvious nods to the original.  Sometimes welcome, sometimes not.  

Tron was underutilized, but I can understand why (from a costly special effects point of view).

Score was great, and Michael Sheen offered some standout entertainment in an often-drab world.

Despite the length of the movie, not a lot happens.  When you boil the plot down to its constituent scenes, it makes it feel smallish.  The same could be said for the original, perhaps.

tstone
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Posts: 76
Posted: 10 years 51 weeks ago

I'm a HUGE fan of the original Tron and distinctly remember that the "Dude" didn't start with The Big Lebowski.  Bridges played Kevin Flynn with the wisecracking side of his persona, the same place The Dude came from.  All The Dude is, is a less manic, more mellow, older Kevin Flynn.  And if that's what we get in older KV...it sounds to me like they hit the right note.

In a universe of infinite possibilities, there indeed may be someplace where you don't SUCK. Fear the LURKING ASS
The Swollen Goi...
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Posts: 14343
Posted: 10 years 51 weeks ago

tstone!   You should drop in on the forums once in a while!

Patrick Sauriol
Location: Canada
Posts: 20119
Posted: 10 years 51 weeks ago

tstone:

I agree that there is some crossover between Bridges' Kevin Flynn and the Dude. The problem I have with the mature Flynn in LEGACY is that there's no indication that he has the heart of a gamer anymore. The flashbacks to the 1989 Flynn make him feel like he's matured somewhat in that his passion now is to free data for all and build open source/the perfect system, but in the present day he's too much "Don't crowd my zen," for me. It would have been nice to hear the older Flynn ask if people still played Pac-Man in the real world or have him show up for the one fight scene he's in to kick some bad programs' asses via moves that were "all in the wrist."

No matter where you go, there you are.
The Swollen Goi...
Location:
Posts: 14343
Posted: 10 years 51 weeks ago

Patrick Sauriol wrote:

It would have been nice to hear the older Flynn ask if people still played Pac-Man in the real world or have him show up for the one fight scene he's in to kick some bad programs' asses via moves that were "all in the wrist."

That's what Ol' Jack Burton always says.