Tron: Legacy,
directed by Joseph Kosinski
(Walt Disney, 2010)

Since Tron first opened in 1982, Jeff Bridges has racked up an impressive amount of screen achievements that have earned him no less than three Oscar nominations. Not many actors would risk their reputations on making a sequel to a movie that is essentially a video game.

Nearly 30 years later, however, Bridges, along with co-star Bruce Boxleitner as best friend Alan Bradley, is back as Kevin Flynn, the disgruntled video arcade owner and game designer who is sucked into The Grid, an elecTronic otherworld that exists alongside our own.

NOTE: I have heard many people refer to this movie as a remake. Tron: Legacy is actually a sequel to the first Tron movie. However, the backstory is very well explained in the first half of the narrative, enough so that Tron: Legacy could act as a standalone.

Once again, the plot, such as it is, is tissue-thin. The story opens with a brief visit to 1989, seven years after Kevin first entered The Grid. Kevin has a son, Sam (Garret Hedlund), who is fascinated with the world of The Grid, which his father tells to him as a bedtime story. After promising to take Sam to the arcade the following morning, Kevin returns to the arcade that night, and -- you guessed it -- mysteriously disappears.

Flash forward 20 years: Sam is now a grown-up, the largest shareholder of Encom, the company that makes Tron games and many other digital miracles. Sam also has a king-sized chip on his shoulder, believing that his father has abandoned both him and the idea of free digital information sharing, as opposed to charging sky-high prices for their "advances in technology," which is what Encom is currently doing over the objections of Alan Bradley.

Sam's protests amount to massive pranks but don't really add up to a serious monkeywrench as much as an annoyance that Encom brushes off. He's a young man at odds with himself and no real way to effectively protest the bastardization of his father's belief in free information sharing.

All that changes when Alan Bradley receives a mysterious page from a number that hasn't been active in 20 years, Flynn's Arcade. Sam checks out the long-since closed-down arcade, finds his father's underground computer room and, before he knows it, he is pulled into a world that once existed only in bedtime stories. The Grid is real, and this time, it's darker and more threatening than ever.

MILD SPOILER ALERT: The light-cycles and the spinning discs are all back, with the addition of flight jets and a lovely young woman named Quorra (Olivia Wilde), a being made of pure data who may represent the next step in human evolution. After fighting for his life in the gladiator arena, Sam escapes with the help of Quorra, who takes him to see the father he's been missing. Turns out Kevin was unwillingly trapped in The Grid when Clu, one of the programs he created to help run The Grid, went nuts and took over the whole place, turning it into a totalitarian nightmare. Clu is bent on bringing his idea of perfection to the world beyond The Grid. Sam, Kevin and Quorra of course have to stop Clu from taking over their world before they can go home. END SPOILERS

Tron: Legacy lives up to its title, being composed of many seminal movies such as Matrix and Blade Runner and other sci-fi classics. First-time director Joseph Kosinski is able to braid their frameworks together into one rather amazing world, a well-done combination that honors it sources while providing a more in-depth world than the first Tron, although I'm sure that the presence of Stephen Lisbeger, writer and director for Tron, as one of the producers for Tron: Legacy, was a big help in the flawless fusion of old and new.

The first half of the movie serves as a re-introduction to the past while the second half is a full-on flight-and-fight for freedom. The action-adventure part alone would be fine but there's a neat, timely subtext to be inferred from the Grid's now-fascist society that mirrors the modern, rather divided view of the Internet as a tool that hurts as much as helps. Kudos to screenplay writers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis for managing to work in an obvious message into an even more obvious platform in a way that's both relevant and accurate.

The visual flair of Tron: Legacy is astounding. Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Claudio Miranda (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Failure to Launch) deserves every compliment. The cycling scene alone is worth the price of admission. The wonderful soundtrack by Daft Punk compliments the awesome visuals so perfectly that I hope to see them nominated for an Oscar for Best Soundtrack (you can see Daft Punk making cameo appearances as DJs in a futuristic night club halfway through the movie). Bridges could have easily phoned in his performance as a techno-Zen dude trying to find peace of mind and just collected his huge paycheck, but he gives the role his usual dedication, which anchors a rather formulaic script and covers for the tepid performance by Hedlund. Wilde does a very nice turn as Quorra, creating a sympathetic character that is in the movie for far too short a time.

This is, absolutely and beyond question, one of those movies that will divide critics forever, as did the first. There will be plenty of room for debate when the next Tron movie comes out, and there will be a third movie, since the second half of Legacy drops clues and subplots all over the place that almost certainly guarantee another installment. Fans of the original probably won't be disappointed while those who ignore the incredible world-building in favor of unachievable perfection will have a lot to chew over. I'm putting Tron: Legacy down as one of the best movies in a year that wasn't exactly one of Hollywood's greatest. Bring your 3-D glasses because seeing this movie any other way won't give you the full monty in terms of its dazzling technical achievements.

review by
Mary Harvey

8 January 2011

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