Saturday, December 18, 2010

Greetings, programs. TRON: Legacy Review.

I have been waiting for TRON: Legacy since I was old enough to know that movies had sequels. I've been nervously eying news about it since it was called TRON 2.0 or, worse, TR2N. I've had a google alert running for well over a year, slowly bringing me more and more news about the casting, development, filming, soundtrack, etc. etc. as each day passes.

To say I went in with expectations would be an understatement.

Still, as a fan of comics, I've gotten very very good at separating one iteration of something from another (a useful skill for things like I, Robot, I am Legend, and various other movies with Will Smith that start with both I and other letters).

So let's begin with my Twitter reviews posted last night:
Okay. Initial verdict: it was a pretty movie, not satisfying as a TRON sequel but totally satisfying on its own.
I'm not just saying this because I follow her on twitter: @'s character was definitely the most interesting (big picture-wise).
And a bit of a test on your SAT skills:

JJ Abrams Trek : Star Trek :: TRON Legacy : TRON

Yes, my iPhone has learned to correct Tron and tron as TRON.

I know that they keep saying TL is not a re-imagining, but a sequel. Honestly, as a fan of the original, it's much easier to think of it as a re-imagining akin to Star Trek XI. The things happening in this movie exist in a parallel world to those of the original, and yay everyone's happy.

'Cause, really, as a movie it's a lot of fun. It's beautiful to watch (I saw it non-IMAX 3D), the plot has holes but is saved by certain characters and actors, and the ending until the last sixty seconds is both satisfying and open-ended enough for a potential sequel. It remains open-ended during those last sixty seconds, but... well. I can't even tell you what it is a direct rip from, or it'll be some heavy spoilers (actually, I guessed it anyway about two days ago, but I'm trying to refrain from spoilers here).

So Sam Flynn is the cranky son of genius Kevin Flynn, whose ability to program video games and get digitized by an evil computer program have also imbued him with the ability to be a really good executive at Encom. Flynn the Elder disappears and Flynn the Younger grows up with various father figures and a big, archetypal chip on his shoulder that includes parkour skills, outrunning the police while his dad's old Ducati, having tons of money but drinking Coors Light, living in a swank bachelor pad, and pulling genius pranks on the company he now owns.

And then it gets interesting, because he gets digitized too.

There are a lot of questions that pop up for a fan of the original. Flynn yuppied out? Who's Sam's mom? Why won't Alan get contact lenses? WTF is Cillian Murphy doing at Encom? [Sshh, he's playing a completely inexplicable character that apparently exists as a shout-out to the original, which isn't really needed in the sea of other shout outs... but I hope they use him in the sequel.]

Who decided programs should have hair?

Luckily most of these questions can be answered by remembering that we're in an alternate universe where Nero has come through and changed history and not in the universe of the first TRON.

Flynn the Elder has basically become a cross between Gandalf the White and The Dude, which is absolutely fine because Jeff Bridges can pull that off in a heartbeat. He's not as adept at pulling off the bad guy, until the bad guy's real motivations are revealed. His origins are revealed in cut-scene flashbacks, some with animation lifted directly from Tron: Evolution, the video game that is supposed to bridge the gap between films (but is mostly just a digital version of Assassin's Creed 1).

The motion capture animation that made Jeff Bridges a younger Flynn the Elder was pretty neat. It wasn't perfect, but it was good enough that I bought Clu as a character. It helped that he was supposed to be a computer generated character, quite literally. And, overall, I have to say that this was a gorgeous film to watch. The world was exactly as beautiful as all of the released footage made me think it would be, but on a larger scale. I have absolutely no complaints whatsoever about the visuals of this movie, aside from the film's insistence on relying on physics that it doesn't need: evident in the first disc game, when gravity shifts and the camera inexplicably doesn't, something that looks particularly sloppy in the world after Inception.

The enemy's gate is down, guys.

The plot had its share of archetypes, tropes and holes. I won't go into too many here, because I really don't want to spoil the parts of the plot that were interesting and good, but Sam Flynn was pretty much the worst protagonist since - actually, I can't think of a protagonist I have disliked as much in the past. This isn't a comment on Garrett Hedlund; he was just fine in the role he was given. It's that Sam as written was unlikeable, stereotypical, and grating.

Until I stopped thinking of him as the protagonist.

Joseph Kosinski said in one of the many many interviews I read that TL was the story of two sons, and the TRON world let him tell that story in a new way. It wasn't and it was, but if you think of it as offspring and they are Clu and Quorra, and Sam is just the plot device that is being used to move you to the real characters - Clu, Quorra, and Flynn the Elder - then Sam is fine. He serves his purpose and does it just fine, with a bit of yelping and inexplicable martial arts skills.

And that's where Tron: Legacy gets good. The story isn't about Sam at all, so the fact that he's unlikable is something that can easily be ignored. As easily as James Frain's (love that guy) weird sycophant.

Olivia Wilde inhabits Quorra well, which is nice to write. I'm a fan of hers and Quorra is something different than her usual world-weary characters. She's naive, full of life and hope, and even though her shoulder-cut outfit makes even less sense when you watch the movie, she holds her own against the majority male cast.

The only other female character of note turns out to be exactly what you think she's going to be, and it's not a positive portrayal. But it was nice to see Beau Garrett have a larger role than I expected, and every movie needs its femme fatale. Well, no it doesn't, but screenwriters seem to think so.

All in all, the actors are fine. But what do you expect from the likes of Michael Sheen and Jeff Bridges? There's a reason they're big name actors that win awards: they're good at what they do. Garrett Hedlund does exactly what he needs to, and Michael Sheen is a lot of fun.

The main issue I had was that we're supposed to believe that Flynn created all of these programs. No one but a user can create programs, they can only repurpose or derezz them. So where does the free will come from? This was a question in the first movie, but because of the plot of this one it becomes even more of an issue.

But the plot isn't really the point of TRON: Legacy. The point is that it's a pretty movie with pretty people and a perfect soundtrack (many kudos to Daft Punk, who won me over with their gorgeous, ambient soundtrack and score, despite my love for Wendy Carlos) and it tells a familiar story well enough to be satisfying on its own. It's exactly what I want from typical Hollywood big-budget movies and even though it has the TRON name on it, it's better on its own as its own movie.

Go see it. If you're reading this blog, you're the the type that will enjoy it. Or hate it and comment here and tell me why. Either way...

End of line.


  1. Sam didn't offend me. He needs to grow up, and he does. Quorra does too, in an entirely different way. And she does, and she will.

    I think there's plenty of internal justification for the level of free will that the programs show. Tron himself could have been handled a little better, I think.

    I think it would have been good for the film to emphasize a bit more the idea that we are in an alternate universe, rather than playing avatars in an MMO or something. The justification is all there, but easy to overlook.

  2. Toldain - It's not that Sam offended me. It's more that I found him annoying and pointless. I also don't think he grew up very much. But I fully admit to having a bias against chip-on-my-shoulder characters with daddy issues.

    The alternate universe theory would have worked for me if not for the continued emphasis on the fact that they were in a computer system, speaking with programs. I think maybe it's my attachment to the original. But, yeah, the AU idea certainly works better to add in justification for all the little things that went unexplained.