Now, I may have recently written that The Expendables was my favorite movie of 2010, and I apologize, but it’s already been replaced. Tron: Legacy is the new flavor of the week. I honestly can’t say I’ve ever seen a movie look and sound so good in my life, which is growing longer by the minute, so someday that statement will seem a lot more impressive.
For those of you not in the know, Tron: legacy is a sequel to 1982’s Tron. Why make a sequel to a box-office flop 28 years later? I have no idea, but I’m glad they did. The new installment introduces us to Sam Flynn, the son of the original’s protagonist, Kevin Flynn. Sam, played by Garret Hedlund, whom you may remember as Patroclus from Backdoor Firemen 8. Wait, I mean Troy. Sometimes I confuse the 2004 Brad Pitt film with an actual gay porno. When did they invent men’s shirts, anyway? Must have been after the Greek period…right, so Sam has grown up without his father, who mysteriously disappeared in the late 80’s, and left his post as ENCOM’s chairman vacated. However, back in the present, Sam receives a page from his dad’s office at an old arcade, and during his search he gets transported into The Grid, which is a virtual world within a computer. Once inside this new digital frontier, Sam, along with a few allies he meets along the way, must battle and race his way back to the real world while being pursued by C.L.U, an “evil” computer program based upon his father, and his masked enforcer, Rinzler.
As you can most likely tell from the quick synopsis, the plot is awful. Not much really makes sense. 50 minutes after watching VR motorcycles make pinpoint turns and defy physics, you’re scratching your head after a jet fighter engine stalls in cyberspace. Ever wonder if an immaterial being created inside a computer world can be magically given human form? Then Tron:Legacy is the movie for you. The resolution to everything is pretty anti-climactic. Without going into spoilers, the protagonists sort of decide to do things that they could have done from the beginning anyway, so all the preceding events are rendered sort of meaningless. Not to mention, the film is littered with dangling, unresolved plot threads. The expository section set in the real world introduces all sort of antagonistic elements on the ENCOM board of directors, but nothing is ever really done with it. A very interesting, yet completely unexplored, dynamic is Sam/Quorra/CLU’s father issues with Flynn. I would have loved to see more done with that, as it was a thematic element with a lot of potential, but again, it was just sort of let go. Why explore complicated family relationships when you can just show an effeminate British guy wave his cane around like a phallus? Am I right?
However, the acting is thankfully pretty solid overall. Jeff Bridges reprises his role as both an older Kevin Flynn and a CGI-aided younger version, C.L.U. He carries this movie. I know I’m not treading any new ground here, but Jeff Bridges can act. C.L.U especially I thought was a great character. He still talks like Kevin Flynn, but it’s just sort of a skin-deep veneer of “hey, dude” attitude over a cold machine. It’s a great effect. The scene where he first meets Sam is done very well. The CGI used to make Bridges look younger still isn’t quite perfect; it really doesn’t look natural; however, in the context of The Grid computer world it actually makes a cool effect because it does look like an artificial Jeff Bridges, which is exactly what C.L.U is, conceptually. Garret Hedlund is passable as Sam. Olivia Wilde, whom more discerning audiences may remember as the uber-hot, yet bi-sexual, Alex Kelly on the O.C (4th best TV show of all time), plays Quorra, who is a program within The Grid, and also moonlights as Kevin Flynn’s pseudo-adopted daughter. Not sure why he would allow her to dress in such revealing, tight-fitting leather, but that’s a different subject, I guess…anyway, she is delicious. I honestly can’t tell you how good an actress she is; I was just looking at that close-cropped jet black hair and…well, moving on. The rest of the supporting cast is solid, as well. Michael Sheen takes a turn as a Ziggy Stardust-inspired night club owner. Why is there a Ziggy Stardust-inspired night club owner inside a computer world? Good question, unfortunately the narrative provides no answers. He just is. Bruce Boxleitner is back as well; he played the eponymous Tron in the original. Telling you who he played this time would spoil important plot secrets. (Hint: it’s Tron and his human counterpart, Alan). Cillian Murphy also has a brief, inexplicable appearance as the son of the original’s villain, Dillinger.
Luckily, the film’s visuals totally make up for the weak story, and really, any other deficiency, as Tron: Legacy introduces us to a completely new aesthetic and effect repertoire. This is a damn pretty movie. The sterile world of the Grid is centered around a dark city highlighted by rigid, glowing lines. The original film, though a flop during its theater run, gained a bit of a cult following afterward due to its visual effects. It was quite literally something no one had ever seen before. I predict a similar fate for the sequel (granted, with way more money in theaters), in the sense that 20 years from now people will look back at Tron: Legacy as a main turning point in film aesthetics and effects, like The Matrix in 1999. Not that The Matrix has aged particularly well, but you can’t deny it’s influence on pretty much every action movie since then.
Perhaps even more impressive than the visuals, is the movie’s sound design. French Techno-duo Daft Punk provides the score, not to mention a gratuitous cameo. And it is awesome; 2 hours of slamming techno beats. I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical as to the ability of a French dancle-club staple to provide an actual film score, but they did a great job. The synthetic sounds and rhythmic beats fit the environment perfectly. And the more epic, main-themish pieces are a total throwback to Vangelis’ Blade Runner score, which induced several nerdgams throughout the viewing. Beyond being just good music, the score is perfectly integrated into the film. Forget dialogue and story, it’s the sound that drives the narrative. I don’t think I’ve ever seen better sound design in a movie, and hearing Daft Punk’s industrial/club beats perfectly synced to scene cutting and pacing is something to see/hear.
However, the true value of a film like Tron: legacy can’t be judged solely by its individual pieces. This is just a fun, charming movie; it is what big-budget theater event should be. There’s no blood, and no huge fiery explosions, but just adventure and a sense of exploring the “new.” Inception and Iron Man 2 were also fun Summer movies; don’t get me wrong. But I already know what modern cities look like. I know what rifle shots sound like. But the beauty of a movie like Tron: Legacy is it exposes us to something really unique; a brand new world. I know 80’s nostalgia might be tarnishing my point of view, but it really hearkens back to those older live-action Disney flicks. It just has a special quality that permeates the entire film, a feeling that you’re watching something special. In the first scene, after Sam’s dad disappears, the young boy runs out of his house and rides off in his bike as the setting shifts to the present day, and Sam cruising down a highway to a sweet techno beat. Right then, I knew I liked the movie. I just sat back in my chair smiling, thinking “this is gonna be good.” I wasn’t wrong.
It is a shame the story had so many flaws; with a strong narrative the movie really could have been something generationally amazing. But in case it wasn’t clear, I highly recommend Tron: Legacy. Go out and see it.