By Trodayne Northern December 27, 2010
“It’s bio-digital jazz, man,” muses Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), the character from Tron, who has returned to “the grid” and silver screen after an almost 30-year hiatus. And, so it is. Much like jazz music, Tron: Legacy not only shows an understanding of the original core of the movie classic, but also how to play with it through variation, and riff. As both a sequel and a standalone, Tron: Legacy is done right. Sure, it has a few problems. However, none are severe enough to warrant a sentence of “De-resolution.” Where many movie sequels suffer from long stretches of time between installments, Legacy does not. If anything, the space between the original and Legacy works to the franchise’s advantage.
The movie opens with Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) telling his eight-year-old son a bedtime story about the digital landscape he pioneered called, “The Grid.” He describes it in idyllic terms and speaks of two programs, each helping his vision to be fully realized: Tron, who polices the grid, and Clu, a program Flynn created based on himself that helps shape and perfect the system. That very night, Flynn disappears. Jump to present day. Sam is now a rebellious twenty-something; a brilliant, Cal-Tech dropout. Sam reluctantly investigates his dear-old dad’s disappearance after his father’s friend and business partner, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), receives a page from a number that has long since been disconnected. From whence did the page originate? Flynn’s old arcade. Beneath the arcade, Sam finds his Dad’s old lab and attempts to hack the system, only to suffer the same fate as his father in the first film. One not-so-serious question: “Why is it that neither of the Flynn boys ever wonder about the giant laser cannon pointing directly at their spine?”
In any event, Sam is taken forthwith, directly into the grid. It is here where he, as one of the grid personalities quite concisely explains, must survive. A feat easier said than done were it not for Quorra, who is not only an Iso—a new edition to the Tron Lexicon—but also Flynn’s very capable and beautiful protégé, played by Olivia Wilde.
The updated grid does not disappoint for either fans or new viewers. The first real glimpse is a smooth transition into a world that takes the essential elements, the look and feel of the 80s cult classic and updates them. Where the Star Wars prequels understood very little about the issues of the mechanical design continuity, Legacy avoided the possible pitfall, altogether. It used story as its guide. This sequel kept the original designs, however, improved them in the same way the original Zelda improved into the later Twilight Princess game. Despite improvements, Legacy never stops feeling like Tron. More importantly, since the program, Clu has been hard at work perfecting the grid. What the grid looks like and why has grounding in the story.
I saw this movie in 3D and if ever there were a movie meant for the medium, it is Tron: Legacy. The computer graphics and environmental design along with the crisp 3D effects made for a refreshing integration between form and function. It was neither obtrusive nor redundant. In fact, the 3D effects helped the story along visually, in a way I haven’t seen accomplished thus far since the 3D resurgence. May I say three words? Light Cycle Scenes.
While Tron: Legacy was by no means a perfect movie, it did know exactly what it was. It developed the general question and theme of the first film—our adorable, almost paranoid, 80s generation fear of subjugation, be it by Corporation, ‘Commie’, or an almost A.I. called the Master Control Program. Still, the fear of subjugation is timeless, despite the now somewhat dated guises of 80s themes. This movie was smart enough not to throw away these themes instead understanding that the stakes had to be raised, not just in terms of threat, but also in terms of the thematic questions the movie posed. Legacy deals more directly with the nature of man’s duality and his hubris. Unlike the Matrix sequels, it doesn’t get bogged down in self-congratulatory musings about its own philosophical cleverness. Instead, Legacy loses a philosophical riff here, a ‘bit’ there, bounces the proverbial ‘disc of light’ back and forth and moves on.
Kudos to Jeff Bridges’ for his interpretation of Kevin Flynn, who went from cocky and brash to Zen and very Dude-like. But the transition was done with style and believability. My hats off to the writers for not playing the overused “estranged, angry son angle” with Sam Flynn. “You weren’t there for me. Wah, wah, wah.” Instead, the movie explored the estranged son angle from a different father/son dynamic, which was made that much more interesting because it was through Flynn/His older self/Clu – the program built in his own likeness.
There were elements of Legacy, nevertheless, that I do wish were handled differently. Some perhaps were more personal preference than fatal flaws. Others, however, were flaws that could have been easily rectifiable. The movie could have had a bit more in the actual hand-to-hand action department beyond wirework to showcase how far we’ve come since 80s fight choreography. But the more serious problem resided in the Castor/Zuse character, played by Michael Sheen. That character should have been a lot less contrived and whole lot more “grid”/world savvy. The fact that Zuse was so quick to give up the data disc and was in turn so easily duped did not jive well with what seemed like the intended character concept. I also missed how the original movie tied a program’s purpose to the program’s character within the grid. Remember the actuary program from the original? Well, the character Castor/Zuse would have benefitted from that kind of writing, I believe.
Finally, my biggest issue with the sequel was with the journey of the titular character, Tron. Not wanting to spoil the movie for anyone who has not seen it, I will only state this: With a few small but crucial changes, the choices that Tron made within the film would have had a better context. Forgive the vagueness but his conflict should have been viewed more clearly and earlier in the film so it works better towards the end. Looking at the movie as a whole though, I enjoyed it. Not a bad way to create new life where none had been before, or rather where only an unsuccessful albeit cult-classic from 30 years ago had previously resided.
Trodayne Northern is a former educator and academic counselor. He currently freelances as a writer/editor and resides in his Harlem laboratory nurturing his varied creative experiments. Presently, Trodayne works for a well established literary agency based in New York City. A graduate from Ithaca College, Trodayne is working on a series of short stories, and his second book in the proposed CRIMSON duology.