TRON Legacy (2010)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, and Olivia Wilde
Directed By: Joseph Kosinski
Written By: Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz
In 1982, Disney unleashed TRON upon the unsuspecting world. In it, a young computer programmer named Kevin Flynn (Bridges) somehow gets sucked into a computer world. Here, he must participate in gladiatorial games in order to survive with very few allies, even if one of those friends would be the title character. It didn’t do particularly well despite it’s groundbreaking use of computer effects. Of course, the CGI found in TRON looks extremely primitive now, but they would have been rather cool to see back in the early ’80s. No, TRON wasn’t a massive hit that Disney wished it would have been. It was destined for cult classic status. Nearly three decades later, Disney gives us the sequel (that not too many of us were clamoring for) and it’s a sight to behold.
We open in 1989 and Kevin is telling a bedtime story to his son Sam. He talks about his work and especially how there has been a breakthrough on The Grid (the computer world which Kevin escapes to and works on). He claims that it will change everything. Literally. After promising to take Sam to The Grid, Kevin rides off to begin his work again and would promptly disappear without a trace. Now onto present day, a grown up Sam (Hedlund) makes his yearly return to ENCOM, his father’s company, to spoil their release party of their new operating system (Kevin wanted his work to always be free and for the people, Sam just helps him with than annually). After finding out from a father figure (Kevin’s friend Alan, played by Bruce Boxleitner), that Kevin may be trying to reach out via a pager (I know, right?), Sam makes a trip down to the old arcade to investigate.
Needless to say, Sam is sucked into The Grid just like his father. Again, like Kevin before him, he must participate in the same games (including Disc Wars and Light Cycles) if he wants to survive. The only difference is that his own father sends Sam to live or die in them. However, all isn’t as it seems as “Kevin” is actually CLU (a computer program clone created by Kevin) and before Sam can be killed by Rinzler (CLU’s battle hardened lieutenant, embodied by Anis Cheurfa), a renegade program, Quorra (Wilde) saves the day. It’s revealed that she’s an apprentice of sorts for Kevin and, naturally, there’s more to Quorra than meets the eye. After father and son meet for the first time in twenty or so years, the three must race CLU and his army of programs to escape The Grid before he can leave and conquer the physical world as he has with the digital one.
TRON Legacy is extremely stylish and wonderful to watch. First time director Joseph Kosinski definitely has an eye for such things. It bolds well for his big budget feature future. While it’s not as pretty as last year’s Avatar, I was actually drawn into this world a bit more. The games arena is awe inspiring and much like in the original TRON, the light cycle sequence is breathtaking. While not all of the effects are flawless (more on this later), it’s truly beautifully rendered and full of imagination. There are some who are confused by the linear limits of the world, but one has to remember it’s a perfected system based from the 1980s (’82-’89). While modern day video games can and do more, Kevin (and thus CLU) were not around to know of these breakthroughs. Additionally, I happened to see it in IMAX 3D. The 3D is done very well as it was the more subtle thing that really caught my eye with it. I also have to mention the soundtrack by Daft Punk. It is simply spectacular and perfect for the world in which TRON exists.
The performances are all rather solid, too. Hedlund gives a steady and typical leading man turn here. He holds his own well enough, especially from someone who is best known by me as Achilles’ “cousin” in Troy. His Sam is akin to any lost wunderkin, equal parts brash and intelligent, and shows just enough emotion during the father/son scenes to make it believable. Helps that he can pass as Bridges’ son well enough, too. Wilde plays the hot chick role very well (because, well, that’s what she is), but there’s an added layer of curiosity that makes her Quorra fun. Be on the look out for Michael Sheen’s extended cameo, it’s an absolute riot (look for his Chaplin homage, too). But this is Bridges’ show from start to finish. He plays a younger version of Kevin, an evil digital version, and the current version which is the result from events in The Grid (as well as separation from his family). Bridges is able to do all of these in a completely believable manner that one can almost overlook the CGI of two of these version. Almost.
Now, it’s time for the cons. As has been suggested, there isn’t much story here. As amazing the effects are, the plot does leave something to be desired. It’s not nearly as bad as some suggest (c’mon, it’s TRON, not Double Indemnity), but there’s enough “just so happens” moments that can make one cringe. I do dislike how they used CGI to make Kevin look younger in the 1989 scene when all that needed to be done was to film him in shadow. There just isn’t a way that I’ve seen that special effects houses can convincingly do it yet. The results are always mediocre at best. CLU is slightly better, I will admit, but it’s still somewhat distracting.
However, the single biggest flaw is simply that the better story occurs between TRON and TRON Legacy. Unfortunately, we’re told it mostly through dialogue and we don’t get to see nearly enough. This makes Legacy drag at several points. I would much rather see a complete movie of the creation of The Grid, the appearance of the ISOs (seemingly life springing up inside The Grid), CLU’s betrayal of Kevin and the aftermath of his takeover. If Tron is Star Wars (an admitted stretch, but hey, I’m trying to make a point), Legacy would be akin to Return of the Jedi. The problem? We don’t get to see it’s Empire Strikes Back and that is really a shame.
Bottom Line: While TRON Legacy isn’t at all perfect (and it’s biggest fault isn’t of it’s own creation), it’s still a good addition to popcorn cinema and not bad at all for a first time director like Kosinski. It’s absolutely stunning to look at and to listen to (thanks to Daft Punk’s score). Turn off your brain for two hours and enjoy the ride. If you’re at all interested, I would definitely suggest you pay to see it on the big screen as much of it’s vast scope will be lost in the translation to televisions.