Yesterday I reviewed a film I waited 2 years for. Mortal Kombat the game was released in 1993 and the film reached theatres in 1995. 2 years felt like an eternity then. All the while there was one film I wanted more. A sequel I had literally been waiting my whole life for. The original Tron film was released in late 1982, around 4 months after I was born. I probably saw it for the first time when I was about 3 or 4. I loved the hell out of it then and still do now. Even at that young an age I knew what was going on cos I was raised at the dawn of the digital age and my dad was just as much of a computer nerd as I am now. Fast forward 28 years and Tron Legacy was released in the cinema, in 3D no less. Was the wait gonna be worth it? Was my childhood obsession with these little computer people going to be sated? Follow the link to find out…
Well I’ll tell you this, I was not disappointed. Everything that was needed is here. Lightcycles, a look unlike any other piece of sci-fi, discs and programs getting de-rezzed all over the shop. There is so much to talk about in this film both for fans of cinema and for the geeks.
First lets deal with fans of the cinematic arts. No it’s not the most astoundingly written film ever made. Tron Legacy was never gonna win any Oscars for its screenplay or for the performances. This film is about good guys being good and bad guys being bad. The original Tron film wasn’t an exceptionally written film either as many fanboys will be too keen to forget.
Tron had some very shonky writing. It was lacking much in the way of an emotional tether to keep the average viewer hooked. Flynn’s arrival in the world ruled by the Master Control Program lost a lot of it’s impact as there’s a number of scenes showing the world before he gets there. And the film is full of jargon that will just leave most people confused. The sequel suffers from a few of these problems but also excels in places the original failed.
Tron Legacy has a good emotional link for the audience in the shape of new protagonist Sam Flynn (Garett Hedlund) and his wish to bring his father Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) back to the real world. Some time after the events of the first film Kevin got trapped in the Grid. No-one had any idea where he had gone as his visits to this new Grid were a secret shared only with his son, and it is presumed, with Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner). By the point we are introduced to the adult Sam we see he’s a grown man who has nearly given up hope of seeing his father again and is making small attempts to keep Kevin’s dream of free software alive by pulling little charitable stunts on Encom, the company he is the largest shareholder in. Stunts they don’t appreciate much at all.
If there’s any issues I have with the opening of this film it is these. Firstly we see the CGI young jeff Bridges in the real world in a few scenes at the start of the film. This should have been saved for Sam’s arrival in the Grid to increase the impact of seeing the young Bridges on screen again. Clu is a stunning effect, which admittedly, hits that uncanny valley spot more often than not. But regardless it is an effect worth saving. The opening scenes were needed but could have been handled with a little more restraint.
My second issue is that the whole opening section of the film is set in the middle of the night. Now this may not seem like much but Tron is a dark world lit only by the unnatural light of the buildings and clothes of it’s inhabitants. This makes the opening scenes feel too much in key with the world of the Grid so when Sam appears in there it is dark, just as it was on the outside. The transition lacks oomph.
As for that transition, honest to god, if this film had been released before Avatar this would have been a Wizard Of Oz moment. Up until the start of act 2 when Sam is transported into the Grid there hasn’t been any 3D used. Sam’s typing away on the computer hidden in the depths of Flynn’s Arcade when BAM, the laser fires, the screen breaks up and bolts towards you in 3D and suddenly everything is in 3D. It’s a moment that could have been incredibly influential if it had been done pre-Avatar but as it isn’t it lacks a little impact and is just a cool moment.
As for the rest of the film there’s a little too much exposition but seeing as there’s a 20 year gap between when Kevin Flynn disappears and when Sam finds him in the Grid there’s bound to be a little ground to cover.
Now for the geeky stuff. This film is a technical work of wizardry. Wizardry beyond anything imaginable by Gandalf, Harry Potter or even Fred Savage. There’s a surprising amount of stage work going on here all seamlessly blended into larger backgrounds. It would have been all too easy for director Joseph Kosinski to pull a Lucas shoot the whole thing on green screen while leaning back in a chair drinking coffee and staring at monitors. This is a director who understands that CGI cannot replace the texture and the feel of something that’s real. I honestly think the CGI Clu was a second choice behind cloning Jeff Bridges.
Music and sound design are excellent. Daft Punk supply a soundtrack with real weight. A mixture of both electronic and orchestral pieces, some at the same time. It sounds unlike any film that’s ever been made. Sound editing is superb. Lightcycles sound like lightcycles but with enough tweaks to make them sound new. Thunder crackles in the distance all the time and there doesn’t appear to be a noise in this film that wasn’t created just for the purpose of making the whole thing sound unique.
There’s also a load of Tron references for the uber geeks out there. In the first few minutes Sam open a really big door, Cillan Murphy makes an uncredited cameo as the son of Dillenger from the first film. Clu at one point repeats the MCP’s favourite conversation ender with his own personal Bridges-esque twist. One enemy named Rinzler has a potentially plot spoiling symbol on his chest and various vehicles from the original film can be seen dotted about the scenery or even in full view. Then there’s a series of new vehicles to enjoy such as the light jets. Personally I’m a fan of how the identity discs have been upgraded from a frisbee to an aerobee sprint.
An unwarranted complaint of the original film was that it lacked any subtext. It didn’t. It was quite clearly a story of a God restoring faith in the people he created who had begun to believe he didn’t exist. The users were the program’s Gods, Tron was their messiah. Pretty simple. People who missed that message in the original probably won’t notice the similar subtext here in Legacy. This is the story of God vs Lucifer. Flynn creates Clu in his own image, they have many good times together building their perfect system, their utopia. One day the ISOs turn up and Clu becomes jealous that Flynn prefers them to him. He decides that the ISOs are imperfect and as he was created to build the perfect system he turns on Flynn and commits genocide on the ISOs.
This forces Flynn into hiding and while he’s away he raises a program in the form of Quorra to learn the art of removing oneself from the equation. Quorra is presented as a warrior but at the same time she has lived a sheltered existence. As such she is very naive but this is never played up too much. An awkward laugh here, a misunderstanding there. She is a well crafted character that could have easily been pushed to be that generic cool warrior woman Hollywood loves or to the side of dumb comic relief. She falls into neither pitfall and manages to be a joyful character that the viewer can get behind. She does leave a massive question open at the end but I’m not one for spoiling films here so I won’t go into that.
Overall the film feels like an attempt to create a new Tron franchise. I look forward to seeing where a third film will go. Presumably it would involve taking the Grid online and seeing what other computer worlds look like. Whilst it’s no means perfect, neither was Tron, and it’s a satisfying sci-fi adventure film that feels quite unique in its style when compared to the toned down, nigh on un-futuristic takes on sci-fi we are usually fed today. Inception, I’m looking at you. I am more than happy to pay up for more in this franchise. Tron Legacy has done nothing to damage my love of the original film and has successfully left me wanting more.
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