Movie Review – Tron: Legacy

Philip Berne - Dec 17, 2010, 10:30am CST
Movie Review – Tron: Legacy

Driving home from the midnight screening of Tron: Legacy, I realized that I should have been disappointed by the movie. It’s very difficult to leave Tron and drive home on a deserted highway at 2:30 AM, with the streetlights stretching out before you and the waxing moon rising in the west, and not push the accelerator far in excess of the speed limit. I kept checking behind me to see if I was leaving a trail. Also, looking out for cops. No on both counts.

It says something that it wasn’t until this drive home that I realized the movie might have been disappointing in retrospect. It says even more that at 8:30 PM on a Thursday night, I downed two shots of espresso and headed out to see a midnight showing. I don’t know if I’ve ever bothered to see a movie at midnight the night before it opened. Certainly, I didn’t bother for the new Star Wars fiasco, or the subsequent Indiana Jones debacle. I’m definitely too old for this. Thus is the power of Tron.

Let’s get one thing out of the way. If you are a fan of the original movie, and by that I don’t mean a fan of the impression the original left in your head two decades ago, or a fan of the video games that cemented Tron in the technogeek zeitgeist, or even a fan of Tron Guy, I mean a fan who remembers the original movie well, then you will love the new Tron: Legacy.

I was happy throughout the movie that I watched the original 1982 film less than a week before I saw the new edition. You would be wise to do the same. Not that there is any necessity in remembering the original plot. The new movie is a completely new story, set in a new digital world. There are a few shared characters, but they have changed dramatically since the last time we saw them, almost 30 years ago.

There are references sprinkled throughout. Even more so, there is the overall tone and style of the original, pervasive through the new movie, but updated and polished to a dazzling sheen. Without the original close in your rearview mirror, you might not understand the significance of the young Dillinger who sits on the board of Encom, the company at the heart of the digital world. You might not remember the original Clu, Jeff Bridges’ doppelganger character. You certainly won’t understand why the sage-looking Flynn acts more like The Dude from The Big Lebowski than the Obi Wan Kenobi he more closely resembles (though not by much). But with the older film fresh in my mind, these bits and pieces added some nuance to the new film, and helped to sculpt the characters a little better.

The original, after all, was goofy. It was fun. It didn’t take itself as seriously as Star Wars or, heaven forbid, The Matrix. I was correct in my review of the original movie that the new film would borrow heavily from the style and character of the Matrix films, especially the second in the Matrix trilogy. What alternate reality science fiction movie doesn’t borrow from The Matrix these days? But Tron: Legacy isn’t as derivative as its predecessor. It’s inventive and unique, both in style and substance. It doesn’t pave new ground the way its predecessor did, but it refines the original style in a way that’s fresh and exciting.

I’m not going to bother rehashing the plot of Tron: Legacy here. If you’ve seen the commercials, you know the plot. There is more to the story than what you see in a 60-second TV spot, of course, but there are no significant surprises, and that’s fine. The metaphysics of the original are expanded in some interesting ways, but the director seems to be much more interested in creating a stylized universe than guiding that universe on its path and answering questions about where it might be going.

The new movie did forget some of the original, as well, but only in spirit. Tron: Legacy takes some casual swipes at Microsoft and the profiteering of software companies, seeming to take the side of the open source movement. But that’s not really what the original was about. Certainly, the first Tron was interested in opening up the channels of communication to share information freely, but Kevin Flynn in the original Tron was not interested in giving his software away, as the new film suggests. Quite the contrary. The plot of the original Tron revolves around Flynn’s quest to prove his best creation was stolen from him, and at the end of the original he takes it back and becomes so wealthy that he wrests control of Encom from its board and executives.

That’s not why I was disappointed, though. I was disappointed because there could have been so much more. There could have been more creations. There could have been more characters, more development all around. The movie follows the same basic structure as the first film. The lead character is sucked into the digital world. He fights. He runs. He returns. By the time he escapes back into the real world, the movie is over.

Say what you like about the meandering paths taken by the Matrix trilogy, at least it had something to say about the nature of reality versus experience. It was a true surrealist movie, bending the division between the real world and the dream world and begging the question of which is more important, and does that importance matter. Tron: Legacy never takes on the sort of deep philosophical questions that it could so easily ask. Neither did the first Tron movie, mind you, but I’d like to think we’re at a point where we take our science fiction movies seriously enough that they can make us think, instead of just making us drool.

However, for the entire span of the film, it never occurred to me to be disappointed. The movie is gorgeous. The action is stunning and fresh. The music is pounding and dynamic, a score from Daft Punk with a cameo by the robotic duo barely concealed in the film. The costumes are brilliant, the pure, glowing essence of the vision created in the original Tron. They aren’t as detailed or friendly, but the original movie had little control over its own lighting and special effects. The new movie takes place in a dark world, a world of despair, but when you’re sitting in a dark theater, it’s a glorious show.


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10 Responses to Movie Review – Tron: Legacy

  1. Just watched it and gotta say. It was great ! but i too recommend seeing the 1st one before seeing this.. This new one was great to watch and really had some ‘gotta see again!’ action parts. and Daft Punk was terrific!

  2. YAY! I’m headed out to see it tonight. Sounds like I’m going to like it!

    I’m kinda glad it didn’t go the same route as the matrix. The matrix bent a bit philosphical, but only in a sophmoreish level. It was unfortunate since it could have gone so much farther… instead “because I chose to” was even more anticlimactic and unfortunate than the ending of the second LOTR movie where the best Sam can come up with is that there’s still good in this world and it’s worth fighting for. Tossing out a lot of deep questions giving either no answer or unsatisfactory answers is just not what I consider entertaining fare. By all means, come to conclusions I disagree with… but at least come to a real conclusion… anything else is kinda like what the Heinlin (sp?) meant in Stranger in a Strange land, where a writer mocks a story that ends “and the boy woke up”.

  3. Best movie I’ve seen in a long time. Visiuals, effects, music all were amazing. I rate it a 5/5 and as good or even better than Avatar. Definitely recommend to see it in IMAX also.

  4. I’m considering to go view it during the holidays. I’ve seen the IMAX stand in the theater when going to watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1) in IMAX… I’m interested in giving it a shot. The story sounds interesting and the trailer was awesome.

  5. Excellent review of an excellent film. I was born the same year as the original, but saw it many many many years ago as a little kid and LOVED it. I have it in my media collection now and watch it roughly 8-9 times a year.

    I’ll agree that watching the original might heighten the appreciation for this sequel, but it was great, nonetheless. I don’t really go to the movie theatre much anymore – few movies are worth the $10+/person price tag, and even fewer are worth the $3-4 surcharge for 3D. The last two movies I saw at the theatre were Avatar and Inception, both at the IMAX, and both worth every penny. TRON: Legacy is on the same level – hugely entertaining and captivating the entire time. There wasn’t a single point where I was tempted to check my watch or my phone in the middle of the show.

    The only 2 complaints that I have is that A. they didn’t show the girls in white enough (no, there is no ‘enough’ of them, lol) and B. they didn’t really do much with the white lightcycle.

  6. I think it was visually stunning movie that needs to be seen in IMAX in 3D. The 3D is subtle and adds a layer of depth like some of the themes of the movie that I think most critics missed when they call it an incomprehensible plot. Unlike Pocohontas in space last year the plot didn’t hit you over the head with the themes (Last year it was pretty easy to follow Greedy white man invades kill natives, Military bad, Ecoterrorism good)

    On the surface it is the typical Joesph Campbell Hero’s Journey: reluctant Hero (sam) gets a message(page to Alan Bradley) to set him off on his quest, meets wise old wizard (kevin) and mythical creature (Quorra) on the way to defeat the baddie (Clu) and save the kingdom along the way a lost warrior returns to the light to redeem himself. But deeper it is the primal story mix of Lucifer trying to overthrow God and rule the kingdom of heaven and Hitler trying to rule the world with his perfect solution. Clu is not some cookie cutter mustache twirling villain at his base core he is the illegitimate son trying to win the love and respect of his father and know he did right. He does what he does fanatically because he is limited by his program, he can’t think outside the box and hates the Iso because they now have God’s love (who also have free will like Man)

    Have we solved the uncanny valley with Clu (Bridge’s deaging) not completely but at the same time we know he is a program limited by that programing code so the fact he looks a little off actually works for me.

    definitely go see it in the theater, the acting is not Shakespeare, but did anyone compare Mark Hamill in Star Wars to Laurence Olivier? Tron has always held a special place in my heart as that is about the time I started programing (BASIC on a TRS-80) and it showed the wonders of the inside of computer. Tron Legacy is the next evolution has us question what is digital life, with all our social and virtual interactions of cyberspace these days does our cyberself represent us or something more.

    • I want to vote this post up more than once because it is simply brilliant, not to mention the awesome name drop of the Tandy TRS 80!!!!!

      My first actual computer!

  7. Ever since the 80’s Tron has been a part of my yearly “geek out” staple, together with Wargames. Every year me and and my friends would go to the anual HCC days, an IT convention before the acronym was invented and before it sold out to the commercial powers that be. I still watch both movies at least once a year and enjoy every minute of them. The original Tron was a stylish affair, shot in black and white and with (for that time) state of the art graphics. Yesterday I saw the new Tron Legacy and I have to agree with Philip, it should disappoint. I expected a much bigger disappointment though (as with the “new” Star Wars pre-logy, Indiana Jones, Terminator and so many others and it didn’t. The atmosphere has been kept although I do think the binary world of the grid with angles and low resolution has become too high rez and therefore more an alien planet than the inner workings of a computer. Unless the server that the grid runs on is analog, the grid should have been bigger and more complicated but not have changed in appearance. Bits and bytes are still binary, no matter how fancy your processor. The 3D didn’t add much for me and just confirms to me that 3D has a long way to go before it becomes main stream. I might go and watch the movie again in 2D because the colors are vivid (I peeked without my glasses) and wash out in Dolby 3D. Not much to say about the plot although I did miss the MCP. Clue just isn’t the all powerful Sauron like presence that dominated the first grid. Cool though that the movie is named after a second tier villain!

  8. you didn’t miss it all the animation is truly amassing where hope that there is part two > sam flynn. fans mo ko the best ka ang galing ng motors mo !!!!!

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