Tron: Legacy (USA, 2010)

Name: Tron: Legacy
Writers: Edward Kitsis (screenplay) and Adam Horowitz (screenplay); Edward Kitsis (story) Adam Horowitz (story) and
Brian Klugman (story) and Lee Sternthal (story); Steven Lisberger (characters) and Bonnie MacBird (characters).

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Jeff Bridges: Kevin Flynn/Clu
Garrett Hedlund: Sam Flynn
Olivia Wilde: Quorra
Bruce Boxleitner: Alan Bradley/Tron
James Frain: Jarvis
Beau Garrett: Gem
Michael Sheen: Castor/Zuse
Anis Cheurfa: Rinzler
Serinda Swan: Siren #2
Yaya DaCosta: Siren #3
Elizabeth Mathis: Siren #4
Kis Yurij: Half Faced Man

Conrad Coates: Bartik
Daft Punk: Masked DJ’s

Run-Time: 125 mins.
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures

When news broke a year or two back that The Maus Haus was planning a reboot of the seminal 1982 ur-Cyberpunk Release Date: 2010
flick “Tron,” I was among those who scratched his head and wondered “Why?”

Though warmly remembered by nerds, first generation video-gamers and fanboys, the early CGI movie is, in reality, plodding, poorly acted in parts, heavily coated in religious imagery and almost charmingly naive in its assumptions that then-emerging computer technology could be a panacea for the world’s problems. The movie flopped at the box office and endured a critical roasting.

So, again, “Why?”

The rapid appearance of “Tron” toys on retail shelves; 32-ounce tie-in cups at fast-food joints and swag provided a pretty clear indicator: Disney suits were hoping that that Xer nostalgia would lead to bucks at the box office. But as was the case nearly 30 years earlier, what they ended up with was a film that was (and say it with me here) plodding, poorly acted in parts, heavily coated in religious imagery and almost charmingly naive in its assumptions that computer technology could be a panacea for the world’s problems.

And just like its forerunner, the movie flopped at the box office and endured a critical roasting.

So with all that in mind, there’s not a single good reason why “Tron: Legacy” should make for such enjoyable viewing. And then I figured out why: It was all about format and perspective. I streamed the movie on my iPad from Netflix last night.

Just as some movies make more sense when they move from the big screen to pay-cable, “Tron: Legacy,” which captures some of the dashed promise of an unfettered Web-turned-corporate — improves when it’s viewed from a streaming service onto a tablet device.

Here’s the plot, in a nutshell: When Sam Flynn (Hedlund), the troubled, 27-year-old son of software pioneer Kevin Flynn (Bridges) starts looking into his father’s disappearance, he’s sucked into the computer world that his father helped to create decades earlier. With the help of his father’s loyal aide, Quorra (Wilde), Sam and Kevin have to fight their away across a computer-generated realm so that Sam can halt a takeover of the terrestrial world by an evil computer program named Clu (also Bridges, whose face is Photoshopped to early 1980s perfection).

There’s so many problems with this story that it would take an entire post to unpack them (and that may be an indication of why the list of screenwriters looks like the traveling cast of “The Music Man.”).

For one, it’s never clearly established why Clu, who helped Flynn and Tron (Boxleitner) create a world called The Grid (a stand-in for the Internet?) has gone all evil and wants to take over the real world. It’s just taken as read that, when you let the computers run everything, they’re just gonna go all crazy and totalitarian.

Nor is it ever made entirely clear why young Sam is given to anarchic stunts like taking a brand-spanking new operating system created by his father’s company, Encomm (which had the free-wheeling style of Apple under Flynn, but is now soulless like Microsoft without him) and uploading it to the Web where it can be accessed for free. Again, we’re made to understand that he’s troubled because his father has disappeared. But Hedlund, who makes Hayden Christensen look animated, doesn’t possess the range, nor is he given the backstory, to flesh this out convincingly.

Boxleitner, taking on the aging seer role played so effectively by the late Barnard Hughes in the first movie, is one of the threads to ties Sam to his father and to the first era of Encomm.

Legacy” reprises the quasi-religious imagery of the first film (in the original, programs worship their users, who give commands from on high), but it swaps the monotheistic ethos for one slightly more Zen. It takes shape in Flynn, who’s given to meditation, koan-like utterances, and the belief that nonviolent resistance is the best way to defeat the villainous Clu.

Of course, no Zen master would be complete without an accolyte — in this case, Wilde, whose high-cheekboned beauty is so pronounced she could probably cut glass. One of the film’s high points, she conceals a secret of her own, but is enough of an ingenue to charmingly blurt “Whats he like!?” after Sam tells her he knows of Jules Verne.

After interminable build-up, exposition and a healthy amount of nods to the earlier source material (courtesy of memory disc battles and light-cycle races), “Legacy” transitions into a chase film as Sam, his father and Wilde’s Quorra make a mad dash to a communication tower so that Sam can escape to the real world before Clu does whatever it is they fear he’s going to do. There’s a big battle, the ultimate sacrifice and Sam’s inevitable escape to the other side with Quorra, inexplicably (but predictably) made flesh.

Though it’s hampered by a story that’s often little more than half-baked and CGI that is, so help me, even murkier than the original, “Tron: Legacy” functions best when ceases it being a run-of-the-mill Sci-Fi chase flick and forces its viewers to think about bigger issues: Namely, the intergenerational relationships between fathers and sons, and the responsibilities and duties each owes the other; the still unresolved debate over whether technology has really made our lives better and why, after all these years, people still find the music of Journey enjoyable (there’s a scene early in the film that explains this).

But even with all those problems, it was hard not to watch “Legacy” and not emerge at the end credits wrapped in a warm gauze of GenX nostalgia, remembering that time when my generation was learning BASIC programming, pumping quarters into Galaga machines and pegging our jeans (someone really should have warned us about that). But still, it would have been nice if Tron had forced viewers to look more aggressively forward even as it took a fond look back.

About jlmicek

I'm an award-winning journalist in Harrisburg, Pa. I also run and cook all the things.
This entry was posted in action, Animation, drama, Film Criticism, Reboots, Reviews, Sci-Fi, Thinking About Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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