Tron: Legacy – The Review

One of the quickest ways to draw the wrath of fanboys is to resurrect a beloved franchise. Be it a remake of a classic, an unneeded prequel, or turning Indiana Jones into a crappy episode of Stargate: SG1, messing with an established property has been responsible for some of the greatest nerd-baiting of our generation. When it was announced that Disney was planning on making a sequel to their most beloved sci-fi film, it was only natural that many were skeptical.

Tron: Legacy takes place twenty years after the first movie. After the events of Tron, Kevin Flynn becomes the owner of Encom, has a child, and generally seems to be living the good life.  One day, he mysteriously vanishes, leaving his son Sam to be raised by his grandparents. In the present day we find that Sam is just as rambunctious and clever as his father, but leads a totally aimless life. Refusing to take over his father’s company, he spends his days driving motorcycles and thrill seeking. A strange series of events eventually leads Sam to the Grid where he finds that his dad was telling the truth about his crazy adventures and that there might be more to his mysterious disappearance than first thought.

Firstly, let’s get the obvious out of the way… Tron: Legacy is absolutely gorgeous. The Grid is everything you could hope for. Bright colors that dynamically contrast against the dark backdrop. A shiny techno world that is still somehow slightly dystopian when leaving the confines of the gaming coliseum. Everything about this world is glossy and sleek. The costumes are stylishly designed and updated for a new generation of movie goers. Visually, the movie is stimulating and engrossing.

While Tron: Legacy might not be the sheer technical achievement that Avatar was, it may be more visually impressive. What can’t be debated is that Tron: Legacy has the best 3D effects since Avatar. The choice to make the scenes taking place in the natural world 2D, then kick over to 3D once Sam enters the Grid is a clever one. The 3D is used responsibly and never resorts to trickery to remind you that it’s a 3D movie. Does seeing Tron: Legacy in 3D enhance the experience? Yes. Would seeing it in 2D ruin the movie? Not a chance. It’s beautiful and doesn’t depend solely on the 3D effects.

Actually, it’s safe to say this movie really doesn’t solely depend on any effects; 3D, special, or otherwise. At the very core of this movie is a great story about a father and son relationship. There are also many other themes that run through the movie, such as political oppression, racism, and selflessness. While the plot can be slightly predictable, it is very well executed and full of lore.  If anything, this movie might suffer from too much information and not enough time, despite having a running time of over two hours.

The movie’s lore, which is covered mainly in flashbacks, is very interesting. It seems that over the past twenty years the Grid has been filled with betrayal, political intrigue, and even genocide. There is a lot going on in this world and it really comes at you very quickly. I dare say that this sequel nearly needs a prequel of its own to really do the story justice. Having personally read the prequel comic that came out from Marvel Comics, I can say there are still large chunks of the timeline left unexplored. Maybe these topics are explored in the video game, but I would rather not have to play a video game in order to get the back-story of a movie.

The writing in the movie is clever and very respectful to the original movie. While they could easily pander to the fans, the writers simply keep it restrained to a wink and a smile. There are callback jokes and lines sprinkled throughout the movie. Some familiar names and characters also make some appearances.  However, at no point does Tron: Legacy attempt to retcon or tear down the lore of the original movie, so you fans out there can resume breathing normally.

Jeff Bridges is amazing. Simply put, without him, this movie would not have worked. The Kevin Flynn character is still charming and charismatic. Whenever Bridges is on screen, your eyes are drawn to him and your ears focus on his words. Unfortunately, the effect used to make him young when portraying the program CLU does look wonky at times, and doesn’t fully convey the subtleties of Bridges’ performance, alhough there are some times when the effect is unnoticeable and those times are truly enjoyable.

The other actors do an amazing job as well. Garrett Hedlund, who portrayed Sam Flynn, was a pleasant surprise. While his character could be slightly generic-movie-hero at times, his character was always likable. His scenes with Bridges were just amazing and will likely touch the heart of anyone who has “daddy issues” in their real lives. Olivia Wilde, who plays Kevin Flynn’s disciple. Quorra, reminds you again that she’s not just a pretty face. Her character’s naivety is charming and I found that I actually began caring about her fate. Michael Sheen also steals the show when he appears as Castor, the program who runs the End of Line club and apparently has the payroll to hire Daft Punk as his house DJs.

Speaking of Daft Punk, the musical score is brilliant. If you have already heard and enjoyed the movie’s soundtrack, let me tell you, it’s even more amazing when put into context. The soundtrack is actually so good, it deserves a review all of its own.

Overall, Tron: Legacy is a well-executed revival of a franchise, which is rare these days. It’s absolutely stunning visually and is a must-see simply because it’s beautiful. Beyond the visual appeal, it has a solid, albeit slightly predictable story, and the acting is top-notch. While by no means perfect, it may be one of the best mainstream sci-fi films to come out in the past ten years.

[xrr rating=4/5]

18 Comments

  1. Posted December 21, 2010 at 1:57 am | Permalink | Reply

    I agree with you that the film is visually arresting. A nice update from the original which didn’t age well. However, I felt that the amazing look of the film was a proverbial smoke screen covering the weak script, and thin plot. I think it is a fun film, and it didn’t damage the franchise. Yet it didn’t really do anything to add much either. If I had a great home theater system, and foresight I would have waited until DVD.

    • Carl WatkinsNo Gravatar
      Posted December 21, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I personally enjoyed the plot and the father/son dynamic it explored. I though the plot wasn’t thin at all, but rather too thick. Like I said, it should have been almost two movies. The first dealing with Kevin, Clu and the ISOs. Then they should have made this one. There was a lot more going on then a lot of people are giving it credit for.

  2. Posted December 23, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Permalink | Reply

    The only two things this movie has to offer are The Music and The Visuals, in that order. I’m not sure how the film’s story can be praised in any way. The screenplay, to me, felt like it was written by a group of 14 year-olds who were obsessed with The Matrix but had no sense of story, tone, or exposition.

    Furthermore, the performance by the primary plastic/manufactured/robotic character, Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) was a joke. There wasn’t one moment in the entire movie that I believed he was in a locale that was as mesmorizing as the Grid appeared to the audience. This was probably due to the fact that he’s a n00b when shooting with green screen.

    Speaking of characters. Quorra is a blatent ripoff of “The Fifth Element”s title character. Except, unlike Milla, I never felt connected to the immense importance of her being the “Last Iso”. Terrible, terrible, actress.

    Which brings me to my final point. And, I should reiterate, this is all my opinion. Everyone has the right to enjoy flat, terribly crafted, “sci-fi” films. I respect that. However, Tron: Legacy was not a sci-fi film. Blade Runner, Clockwork Orange, Children of Men, etc…those are sci-fi films. This was a kung-fu fantasy film. Sadly, not a very good one. You want a good kung-fu fantasy film…check out Kung-Fu Hustle.

    I wish I would’ve just listened to the Soundtrack. I enjoyed the visuals, but about as much as I enjoy the visuals in a good videogame.

    Merry X-Mas,

    Ant

    • Carl WatkinsNo Gravatar
      Posted December 23, 2010 at 6:15 pm | Permalink | Reply

      *shrug*

      The plot had a beginning, a middle and an end. All the characters had clear motivation. I enjoyed the story and didn’t see any fundamental problems with it.

      Garrett Hedlund wasn’t an ideal leading man, but like I said in the review, he was likable and did a serviceable job. Anytime he was on screen with Bridges, I felt there was a chemistry.

      The only similarities I see between Quorra and Leeloo is that they are both strong and capable female characters. It seems your issue has to do with the fact that you didn’t understand her importance within the plot, which is no fault of the actress who I thought did a good job. If anything that would be an issue with the writing.

      As far as Tron: Legacy not being sci-fi… I think it is a textbook example of the genre.

      Happy Holidays,

      Carl

    • GriffeyNo Gravatar
      Posted December 23, 2010 at 7:53 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Totally agreed. Well said.

      • GriffeyNo Gravatar
        Posted December 23, 2010 at 7:53 pm | Permalink | Reply

        With Ant (clarification, sorry Carl)

  3. GriffeyNo Gravatar
    Posted December 23, 2010 at 7:46 pm | Permalink | Reply

    If you study film genre in a film school, technically Tron classifies much closer to Fantasy than Sci-Fi. Kind of like Star Wars. As for the plot, simply having a beginning, middle and end is all that should be required??? Tomatoemeter has it at a 48%, that is failing by most grading scales. This film would have been better served coming out in the summer with other movies of its kind rather than being surrounded by awards caliber movies.

    • Carl WatkinsNo Gravatar
      Posted December 23, 2010 at 8:09 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Science Fiction (noun): fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component.

      By the genre’s very definition, Tron is Sci-fi. As someone that has watched science fiction movies for nearly three decades, I think I can understand what makes the genre what it is and don’t need someone to tell me otherwise. Science Fiction as a genre has been around long before movies, even if it wasn’t always called that.

      As far as plot, yeah, having a coherent story that follows a path is a great start. Many films today don’t even have that. Add to that the fact that the characters had motivation, again something that is often missing from films, sealed that it was a solid story for me. I related to the characters and enjoyed the adventure they went on.

      As far as movie critics, I could give two craps what they have to say. When “It’s a Wonderful Life” was released, the reviews were mediocre at best and now it has been labelled culturally significant by the Library of Congress. If I were to just allow movie critics to tell me how to feel about a movie, I wouldn’t have written my own review of the movie.

      At the end of the day, I like to watch movies I enjoy. I enjoyed Tron: Legacy. My friends, some of which had never seen the original Tron, enjoyed Tron: Legacy. Even if they didn’t enjoy it, it doesn’t matter to me because I didn’t watch the movie for them. Was it a perfect movie? No. That’s why I didn’t give it five stars.

      • GriffeyNo Gravatar
        Posted December 23, 2010 at 8:27 pm | Permalink | Reply

        I was implying the examination of greater themes in the genre. Sci Fi usually deals with a chaotic and uncertain future. Fantasy on the other hand is more about the journey of an individual (or group) against some great odds, starting as young and or inferior and then ascending to a hero status (like in Tron).

        You are right about It’s A Wonderful Life and many, many other films. 2001 for a Sci-Fi example. However I don’t think Tron will get the same revisionist love.

        I think about 50% on the tomatometer is pretty right on as to how people will like or dislike this film. I think it does have just enough to please most people, but there will be those who want more and won’t get it.

        • Carl WatkinsNo Gravatar
          Posted December 27, 2010 at 6:08 pm | Permalink | Reply

          A journey of an individual (or group) against great odds that eventually leads to the character being a better person is simply the bases for almost any story that has external conflict. To say that makes it “fantasy” is silly. Saving Private Ryan has a group of men going up against incredible odds and ends with their leader making a heroic sacrifice which gains him heroic status with the survivors. Does that make it fantasy?

          Fantasy and Sci-fi as genres are more about specific content and setting then plot, and to say or imply that they’re mutually exclusive is moronic. Yes, Star Wars has elements of fantasy and blatantly steals elements from popular lore from the past couple thousand years, but that doesn’t make it any less Sci-fi.

          Both Tron movies are about guys that get sucked into a computer and then are required to battle computer programs. That’s Science Fiction. Yes, it has elements of fantasy and elements of the hero’s journey, but to say it’s not science fiction is just being stubborn and foolish.

          And I’m sure if you asked the critics of It’s A Wonderful Life if it would become a beloved classic after the fact, they would disagree too. You can never predict what will and won’t become a cult classic. Audiences are fickle and at times stupid. Though I will say almost 90% of the people I talk to on a regular basis enjoyed Tron. And not just my nerdy sci-fi loving buddies, but even 20 some year old girls that hadn’t seen the first one.

          I enjoyed the movie and actually saw it a second time since this review. I feel the same about it now as I did when I wrote it.

        • Posted December 27, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Permalink | Reply

          I think you’re both right to an extent. To me, Fantasy is an inescapable core component of the Scifi genre, and both genres invariably share common aspects. There’s a good reason why both genres are shelved together at book and video stores.

          Take a look at A New Hope… take away the space factor and replace the lightsabers with swords, and you have a full-on Fantasy movie. Now I haven’t seen Legacy, but what I remember of the original leads me to consider the series to be a Scifi tale that leans heavily on its Fantasy core to provide the quest aspects of the stories. Tron just blurs the genre boundaries a bit more than “classic” examples.

          • Carl WatkinsNo Gravatar
            Posted December 27, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

            But that’s exactly what I’m getting at. If you replace certain elements of any film, it can be turned into a sci-fi or fantasy movie.

            Take the tale King Arthur for example. Give them all laser pistols or laser swords, take away horses and give them space ships. Now change the grail into ancient alien technology that can heal or bring people back to life. Boom. Sci-fi.

            The Manchurian Candidate: Make it be aliens using a shape shifter or some sort of brain scrambling device that allows them to infiltrate the government of another planet or even Earth. Boom. Sci-fi.

            Set Casablanca on a space station on the edge of a giant galactic war. Boom. Sci-fi.

            It’s not the story itself, but rather the context and details that define the genres of Fantasy and Sci-fi. Some of the best Sci-fi stories are simply reflections on humanistic elements that are embellished with the use of advanced technology and could be easily told in any setting.

  4. Posted December 27, 2010 at 9:37 pm | Permalink | Reply

    The study of genre is always fascinating as to how it affects the telling of the story and the audience. I was once told a fascinating example of genre to use as a guide when thinking about genre.

    Take Debbie does Dallas. Replace Dallas with Hoth. Then Debbie proceeds to bang every man in the rebel base. What genre would you describe said film?

    The point it is getting at is that the content and focus of the story telling far out weights any locations, props, or characters. Always got a chuckle out of that one.

  5. Carl WatkinsNo Gravatar
    Posted December 27, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I would say it’s a science fiction themed pornographic movie. If you put Debbie on Hoth and then have her seduce the rebel soldiers in order to obtain the codes to the base’s shield generators, it would squarely be science fiction. At that point it is a woman using human sexuality in order to overcome a high tech obstacle.

    All stories are the same if told in a traditional manner. There’s a protagonist, there is an antagonist, there is a conflict and then a resolution. All the while there is ideally growth of the character or they remain static to illustrate the theme of the story. The details such as location and characters build onto these basic things, which then determine the genre.

    • Posted December 28, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Permalink | Reply

      As you called it a sci-fi themed porn, I think is what Ant was eluding to in his original comment when he made the statement “kung fu fantasy.” I think many of us saw it as a fantasy film with sprinkles of sci-fi. I think as many of us have aged since the original we were hoping for a more hard sci-fi look at the effects of this kind of technology on the future of our world or our entire race, rather than just Flynn and his family as I saw it.

      I totally agree with you that genre debate has nothing to do with the quality of this movie as a work. It may have just affected some audiences opinions and expectations like mine and Ant. I know for me personally it was a case of wanting a more adult yarn, and feeling like Tron got too much of the Disney touch. To each his own.

      • Carl WatkinsNo Gravatar
        Posted December 28, 2010 at 5:59 pm | Permalink | Reply

        That I can totally get behind. I personally wouldn’t have minded a more… mature story and feel that overall the movie could have been edgier, even though that’s a strange thing to say about a movie that contains genocide. Which might have been part of the trouble frankly. There was a lot going on, but it was more implied than actually shown which is a terrible thing to do with a movie.

        Clu did horrible things. He didn’t just kill Programs, which were artificially created, but the ISOs as well. Naturally occurring digital lifeforms, which brings into question the whole “value of a life.” But again… these are all things that are implied and never explored.

        I will concede that the story in general was very “Disney” and was designed to be lowest common denominator, but that’s something you have with just about any mainstream movie. That’s what makes them mainstream. Though, it didn’t make me enjoy what was presented any less. It may have also helped that I went in with very little in the way of expectations and was ready for it to completely suck…

        I personally gauge movies on what they aim to be. Like how I have a positive opinion of “Dukes of Hazard.” I mean, really… it’s a movie based on “Dukes of Hazard” that stars Johnny Knoxville, you can’t expect Shakespeare. 😉 Was it a good movie compared to something artistic and risky like “Raising Arizona?” Nope. Did I enjoy it as much… well, no… but I didn’t mind it 😛

  6. Posted December 28, 2010 at 8:04 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Agreed. Perhaps in Tron 3??? (interior shutter)

  7. Deak Starkiller from the VORum...No Gravatar
    Posted January 3, 2011 at 12:26 am | Permalink | Reply

    Carl, well put my man. I was just commenting to Ed on how much I dug this movie. I am shocked on how much it hit me, I know it’s not for everyone but I can’t stop thinking about it. Just awesome.

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