Tron: Legacy

I first watched the original Tron earlier this year based on several recommendations from friends, and was really hooked on the film. The 1982 film was one that was a neat balance between advanced effects (now very, very dated), action and a decent storyline that had a lot of potential. When the first promotional clips were released of the new Tron, it looked like it would be an interesting update of the franchise. Tron: Legacy is a fun science fiction film, and while it has its shortcomings in the plot, the visuals and excellent score make up for it.

Taking place nearly thirty years after the events of the original, Legacy has aged real time. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) rose to the top of the tech industry and then vanished, leaving behind his Son, Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund). The majority share-holder of Encom, Sam plays a minimal role in the company, stopping by to prank the board, before encountering Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), who tells him that he received a page from his long-lost father’s office at the arcade. The younger Flynn is sucked into the Grid, and finds that his father had literally disappeared for the past thirty years, and that his creation has grown beyond its creator harboring some greater ambitions for the real world.

Tron: Legacy serves as a good action film, with top-notch visuals and action that shows just how good the last thirty years have been for the film industry. The effects of the original, now quaintly dated, held up nicely for what they were (and as a sort of period science fiction film), and the new entry in the Tron universe has brought together a sleek glass and light environment with better costumes and more exciting and dynamic action sequences. The eye candy alone is worth the price of admission, and on one level, the film is a fun action film that does well for what it is.

Plotwise, the film falters more than I would have liked. Inception this isn’t, and while I can make a case for some strong points for stories and allegorical undertones to the original, the fact remains that these films were designed to be crowd pleasers, not something to ponder for years to come. As such, the plot moves from point A to point B pretty quickly, expediently and predictably.

Looking back at the film, there’s quite a lot that could have been done: the most frustrating element here is the wasted potential that a film such as this could have offered. Like the original, there’s some powerful material here that relates to religion and creationism, for we see Flynn creating his own world from quite literally nothing, alongside CLU and TRON, according to some plan of perfection. Along the way, we see the introduction of ISOs (Isomorphic Algorithms), who manifested themselves out of nothingness. The potential for some very interesting storytelling is there, and ultimately, never followed up on to any great deal of satisfaction. The big problem here is that these elements are all touched on: the father / son angle, the deity angle, the understanding of perfection vs. imperfection angle and so forth, but once touched on, they dissolve into the background as one thing leads to another action scene. To turn this into a truly extraordinary movie would have been a huge leap of faith by creating a radically different film from what we’ve seen in the franchise thus far, and it’s clear that Disney was content to keep this as a sure money maker, rather than a risky investment. Critical acclaim is certainly nice, but it’s not bankable.

Disney has a number of plans for the rebooted Tron, with an additional two sequels planned, and a ten episode television series coming up next year, the franchise is something that the company is looking to for revenue for the future. Rather than going the smart route, they’ve gone the Star Wars route: merchandising, sequels, continual updates and inclusions into the franchise. The TRON world seems like it would be a good one to try out, given the potential that exists with some elements of the plot. The ending of Legacy certainly leaves the door open for some future films and stories to be told.

There’s other flaws with the film as well. The director, Joseph Kosinski, is out for his first time with this one, having directed some critically acclaimed shorts such as the ‘Mad World’ Gears of War and Halo ‘Starry Night’ commercials, but his style here left some of the action and transitions between scenes flat, slowing down the pace of the film at points, something that shouldn’t happen in any sort of major film.

But, this doesn’t ruin the film. The pieces are there in the background, and there’s a balance between action and story that makes this a film that can exist on a couple of levels. There’s far more logic and interest to the film than some of the other science fiction blockbusters out there, and the combined effort of the actors (Michael Sheen is especially excellent as the zany manager of the nightclub End of Line) who bring about some decent performances – I particularly liked Olivia Wilde as Quorra, Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn and Bruce Boxleitner, reprising TRON and Alan Bradley briefly. Quick eyes will pick out Cillian Murphy in the opening of the film as well. Plus, Daft Punk helped to put together an amazing soundtrack that helped push the film along where needed, and the duo show up a couple of times in the club. One might think that that’s their natural habitat.

More so than the story or the actors, Tron: Legacy has done an excellent job updating the Tron world from the 1980s on a visual and social level. I’ve liked what the original did to conceptualize computer programs as people within their own little world (which in and of itself has some towering philosophical threads) and it’s been used in other works to great success, such as in Ian McDonald’s ‘River of Gods’. Legacy opens up this world a bit more under Flynn’s Arcade, and the territory is ripe for new ideas and directions.

Tron: Legacy was a film that I enjoyed watching. While it didn’t move me to want to go back and watch again right away like Inception, Moon and District 9 did, it didn’t make me regret that I’d spent the money and time watching it in the first place. While not the smartest science fiction film out there, it’s certainly far from the worst that I’ve ever seen, and I’ll be interested to see what will come next for the Tron franchise.

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