Movie Review: Tron: Legacy
By Matthew Huntley
December 27, 2010
Despite some of the narrative fallacies of Tron (1982) and its inability to stand the test of time (how could it when centers on the ever-changing computer industry?), it had a look and feel that were undeniably unique. To many, it’s even considered a small classic. The same will not be said of its sequel, Tron: Legacy, which ups the ante on the original’s budget and special effects but not on its imagination or storytelling.
In this lackluster follow-up, Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) is the 27-year-old rabble-rouser son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), the computer jock from the first movie who found himself trapped inside a digital world and used his software engineering skills to escape. He would later tell his computer adventures to Sam, but one day Kevin mysteriously disappears. Twenty years later, his old friend and business partner, Alan (Bruce Boxleitner), receives a page from Kevin’s abandoned arcade.
Sam does some investigating and finds a hidden basement where his father secretly worked on a computer world called the Grid, which means he physically transported himself into the system. He planned on using his creation to better the world, but his Grid counterpart, CLU (a digitally younger Bridges), became obsessed with perfection and seized control of the Grid and its other programs (basically, digital humans) and began carrying out genocide against a group called ISOs (short for isomorphic algorithms), who, I don’t know, are supposed to be the key to revolutionary ideas.
Needless to say, Sam finds himself inside the Grid, comes upon his now aged father and devises a plan to escape. He enlists the help of a beautiful ISO named Quorra (Olivia Wilde) and does his best to avoid certain danger. From the point Sam enters the computer, the movie systematically jumps through all the usual good vs. evil hoops we’ve come to expect from the science fiction genre, the only difference being that all the battle sequences, fight scenes, chases, etc. are presented Tron-style. This means the characters throw Frisbee-like discs at each other; chase each other around on light cycles; and everyone wears skin-tight, neon-lit suits. These qualities will probably be enough to appease die-hard Tron fans, who might automatically give the movie a pass simply “because it’s Tron.”
Normally I wouldn’t care if the plot was this hackneyed and lame, at least not if I found myself enjoying it on a popcorn level, but the problem I had with Tron: Legacy is it feels too recycled from other movies - in the look, design, conflicts, action sequences. There are too many traces of other cinematic sci-fi worlds within it that it hardly felt distinct or original, especially compared to its predecessor. Its greatest influences are obviously The Matrix films and Minority Report.
The trademark light cycles are neat to look at, but director Joseph Kosinski doesn’t do much with them, at least nothing we haven’t seen before. For a movie that takes place in such an extraordinary universe, the action and situations that take within it are anything but. I was craving some awe-like moments that mesmerized me and left me looking up at the screen with a gaping mouth, but my reaction was more ho hum.
Bridges is his usual strong self in his quasi dual role and proves once again he can bring presence and conviction to any character, but the same doesn’t go for Hedlund. Maybe it was the cheesy dialogue, but he doesn’t make Sam all that interesting or charismatic. He's written and performed as a stock movie rebel.
Speaking of interesting, I was hoping the movie would have slowed down and really shown us the Grid up close and answered some questions that might allow us to become more invested in the characters. For instance, how do the users (a.k.a. the regular human beings) eat in the Grid? Is food written as a program? And where did Kevin get that fancy pig roast? Do programs like CLU have to eat? Does anybody mate in this world? How did Kevin pass the time after he knew his creation was taken over by his own avatar? Did he simply meditate the whole time?
Knowing these kinds of details could have given the story more weight and dimension. Also, what’s the deal with Tron himself? You may recall he’s the character from the original film whom Kevin teams up with to overtake the villain, but here he’s turned to the dark side and his shift in loyalty is barely explained. We don’t know why he's suddenly become a bad guy. It's a shame, too, because it would have made for an interesting subplot.
You may think I’m asking for too much since Tron: Legacy wasn’t made with the intention of being a masterpiece, but why can’t it try to be more than just a conventional popcorn movie with standard conflicts and action sequences? The movie isn't bad, but it’s also not special. For a highly visual picture, it lacks moments of sheer awe we expect and hope for given its $200 million budget; and for a science fiction story, it lacks the depth and complexity to make it go beyond the limits of its genre. In a nutshell, the movie doesn’t get by on being an extension of Tron alone. It needs more.