REVIEW: TRON: Legacy [2010]

“Like bio-digital jazz, man”

It’s twenty years later and I’m still not quite sure how anyone would think a big budget blockbuster taking place inside a computer mainframe could feasibly be seen as profitable, yet Disney has done it once more. 1982 saw TRON unleashed upon the world with an aesthetic way ahead of its time and confounding language for anyone not a computer programmer. Somehow it gained a huge cult following and the studio held tight, always rumoring a sequel, until they could blow audience minds again. TRON: Legacy is not your parent’s TRON despite a storyline very similar to its predecessor. The environment of The Grid is awe inspiring, the neon colors are vibrant against the dark palettes, the electro beats from Daft Punk are even more mesmerizing when the score is put to visuals, and the 3D work is impeccable, (and, get this, only used inside the computer world, keeping our reality in two dimensions like director Joseph Kosinski intended). Kevin Flynn has been hard at work on the mainframe and it shows.

Flynn (Jeff Bridges reprising his original role), always saw his programming work as a means to creating the perfection he never saw on Earth. It might have been an accident when he actually ported himself inside, but it was also the dawn of a new era. He became the God of an artificial world, ever evolving before his eyes by his own hands and serendipity too. What was simply 1s and 0s in the 80s has expanded into cityscapes of code, where programs can interact with each other and build a community of user controlled entities. It only took Flynn seven years to reach a point where The Grid could be shown to the world and for a miracle to happen that would change everything. He, with the help of TRON, (Bruce Boxleitner’s Alan Bradley’s program doppelganger), and CLU, (standing for Codified Likeness Utility and a program version of Flynn himself), had built a self-sustaining society that experienced a ‘big bang’ event once ISOs (Isometric Algorithms) formed out of whatever a digital world’s term for thin air would be. Here were creations of The Grid itself, a powerful development able to cure reality’s ailments and a dangerous evil to the manufactured perfection CLU was built to preserve.

A coup erupted, TRON was defeated, Flynn was chased into exile, and CLU took his place as the ‘emancipator’ of programs. The Grid saw a new cycle of existence devoid of its creator on both sides of the portal connecting our two worlds. With Flynn trapped inside, he was no longer able to continue developing his company, ENCOM, pushing CLU out and enhancing the machine to better serve the people deserving of its riches. The company instead slogged on and boxed revamped versions of its old operating system, (an uncredited Cillian Murphy merely slapping a new number on the packaging), allowing the sprites within the circuits to continue their reign of darkness and persecution as CLU transformed a utopia into the Third Reich, controlling with fear and leading the mass genocide of all ISOs. His ultimate goal, however, always rested with the possibility that acquiring Flynn’s disc, (the Frisbee-like tools of The Grid’s ‘games’ and a sort of lifeforce for all inhabiting it), could release him into our dimension. The only way to do so was bringing a new user in to smoke Flynn out. No one could have known the new player would be his son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund).

And so the adventure begins. Sam is very much like his father—a whiz at computer science, a rebel towards authority, and a free spirit unencumbered by fame or notoriety, merely looking to make the world a better place. Constantly subverting the company he could take control of whenever he was willing, the boy knew what it meant to have integrity, but also to know he wasn’t quite ready to take the reins. There’s nothing like a trip to The Grid for an instant wake-up call towards the dangerous power wielded on the other side, in a place he imagined was simply a father’s fantastical tales to a son at bedtime. Only when he’s pitted against programs looking to erase him does he realize the stakes and the work his father had been performing. Now the bait to rustle the Creator out of his cave off-grid, Sam is put into the Pong-like back and forth and the Lightcycle races we remember from TRON—revamped for the 21st century in glorious CGI and art direction. Never one to back down from a challenge, he goes full bore into the matches, soon scooped up by his father’s apprentice, Quorra (Olivia Wilde), to re-team and take down CLU before he destroys all existence by crossing over.

It’s a race against time with the heroic trio of rebels going against an orange/red-tinged populace out for pixels. There are some fascinating characters along the way like the model-esque enigma Gem (Beau Garrett); the flashy and entertaining Castor (Michael Sheen); and the dotingly spineless assistant to CLU, Jarvis (James Frain). Each adds some flair and humor to the otherwise dire proceedings of action-packed travels to the portal. It may be a Disney film and rated PG, but the sci-fi violence can get intense and the dialogue/plot is quite convoluted in the sense that children will find it hard to comprehend—if the plot even needs to be comprehended in the first place. Bridges is great as an older version of Kevin Flynn, stuck in the 70s with tons of “mans” and “radicals”, never having experienced a drastic change in the lexicon; Hedlund holds his own as the rebellious heir to The Grid and the film series itself with obvious allusions to a sequel; and Wilde is gorgeous in the tight leather outfits, also getting the childlike naivety of a computer program devoid of real world knowledge perfectly.

The true star, though, is the unreal aesthetic. Kosinski obviously cut his teeth on high-style commercials for the likes of Halo 3, amongst others, and has brought that vision here. Disney must have loved his work as much as fans are because they’ve already tapped him to remake another sci-fi flick from the back catalog in The Black Hole. Every improvement you would have dreamed for when watching the original TRON today has been made, and then some. The Lightcycles are a motorcyclist’s fantasy, the reflective environments are visually stunning as they add layer and depth to the 3D effects, new creations like the Lightcopter, (think a Star Wars TIE Fighter), are just the breath of fresh air the franchise needed, and the mysterious Rinzler adds excitement with Anis Cheurfa’s martial arts moves. These surroundings will envelope you, overload your senses, and make any questioning of the story moot. I wouldn’t say the script is weak—it’s definitely derivative of the first in its progression, but that’s not a bad thing—everything else just overshadows it. And that’s the point. TRON: Legacy places you in The Grid and grabs hold to where you don’t want it to let go. You can’t ask for much higher praise than that.

TRON: Legacy 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) stars in Tron Legacy ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Film Frame CLU (Jeff Bridges) ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
[3] Olivia Wilde stars as Quorra and Garrett Hedlund stars as Sam Flynn in Walt Disney Pictures’ Tron Legacy (2010)

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