A film review by Craig J. Koban December 23, 2010

Rank:  #24



2010, PG, 125 mins.


Kevin / Clu: Jeff Bridges / Sam: Garrett Hedlund / Quorra: Olivia Wilde / Alan / Tron: Bruce Boxleitner / Jarvis: James Frain / Castor / Zuse: Michael Sheen

Directed by Joseph Kosinski / Written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz.


If watched within the context of its original release way back in 1982, Steven Lisberger’s science fiction film TRON was unequivocally a watershed and pioneering film in the annals of cinema history.  Lisberger’s landmark and groundbreaking effort – which, for its time,  combined an absolutely unheard of marriage of live action and the extremely new concept of computer generated animation – was undeniably state-of-the art, despite its obvious crudity and simplicity when viewed by today’s eyes that have been inundated with hundreds of films yearly that use pixalized imagery like it were going out of style.    

Even though the film has dated rather poorly when compared to modern visual effects techniques, there is no doubt that Lisberger audaciously imaginative design for the film stood proudly on its own: The original TRON may have contained only 15-plus minutes of actual CGI footage and used computers with memories that are dwarfed by the smart phones we carry in our pockets daily, but it was the enterprising idea of combining filmed actors with computer images that was a radical first.  TRON may not have been a solid box office hit for Disney when released (it grossed a mere $33 million) nor did it create a titanic STAR WARS-esque revisionism of the pop culture milieu of the time, but the cult and influence of TRON is its proudest legacy.  John Lasseter has admitted that without the film’s existence then the whole cannon of Pixar films would have arguably been merely a pipe dream. 

This prologue brings me, of course, to TRON’s long gestating sequel, subtitled LEGACY, which continues the story that its prequel began 28-years earlier.  The basic plot of the original – you may or may not recall – concerned a brilliant and intrepid video game developer named Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) that attempted to hack into an airtight computer mainframe of a corporation, but in his attempts he found himself inadvertently teleported to the digital world of the computer itself as a “user”.  While there he teamed up with various programs (one being named “Tron”) that attempted to defeat the Master Control Program that ruled the digital world with an oppressive resolve.  Flynn and Tron saved the day and Flynn returned to the real world and the new film takes place – in one brief introductory scene – seven years later and then flash-forwards to the present, where the story of Flynn and his offspring involves a return trip to the digital world of the PC. 

TRON: LEGACY begins in 1989 where Flynn – at this point an innovative software programmer and CEO of a vast computer corporation called ENCOM – informs his 8-year-old son Sam (played as an adult by Garrett Hedlund) of the new digital frontier that he has created called "The Grid", which is a virtual computer world set apart from the real world.  He lovingly reveals the exploits of how two of his self-created programs, Tron and Clu (the latter played by Bridges, more on that in a bit): Tron serves as the cop of the digital universe, keeping it secure and safe, whereas Clu has been instructed to create the “perfect system.”  Flynn informs his son how he is on the cusp of a major breakthrough in his work that could change human civilization forever.  After he finishes his story to his son, Flynn departs to work…and is never seen again. 

Two decades pass and Flynn is still M.I.A., which has had the unfortunate side effect of leaving Sam an orphan that has grown up never knowing why his father never returned to him.  ENCOM has become a global-dominating entity that would make Microsoft blush with envy, and Sam is the primary stockholder of the company, but he is more interested in sabotaging their newest software efforts than with being a member of the team.  A long-time colleague of Flynn's, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) has long assumed that there is more to Flynn’s disappearance than petty and selfish abandonment, but Sam never seems to buy into that idea.  One day changes Sam’s perspective on his father forever: When Alan receives a message from what appears to be Flynn, it leads Sam to investigating his father’s old arcade that, in turn, leads him to a secret room filled with his father’s high tech computers.  Sam, inquisitive as ever, punches away on one keyboard, but he accidentally launches a program for a nearby digitizing laser that teleports him into the world of The Grid.  

After a series of near-fatal gladiatorial tests for Sam in the digital world, he is introduced to Clu, who has become a despotic and cruel figure of The Grid.  Sam is eventually rescued by a being named Quorra (the gorgeous and spunky Olivia Wilde) who takes him to a secret hideout where Sam has a fateful meeting with his aged father.  After their teary-eyed reunion, Flynn informs his son as to how Clu betrayed both him and Tron and seized control of The Grid and systematically destroyed programs that Flynn created to unearth mysteries in every human-centric field of study.  Flynn could have “re-integrated” with Clu, thus stopping his reign, but the process would kill them both.  However, there is a pathway between the real world and the digital universe that can be reached and used, but only for a very limited time.  Flynn, Sam, and Quorra take it upon themselves to find a way to end Clu’s tyrannical reign and return to the real world fully intact. 

Before discussing the film’s look, some mention needs to be made about the pleasure and genius of getting back Jeff Bridges after a near-30-year departure from the first film.  The visual effects wizards have taken Bridges' mug and de-aged it so that he can, in essence, play the role of himself in a few brief scenes in the past, but also so that he can play Clu (critics that bemoan that Clu looks waxy and exhibits the Uncanny Valley Effect of most CGI human characters miss the point: Clu should look real, per se, but kind of unreal at the same time, which makes him a spooky presence).  As the elder Flynn – sporting a grizzled, Moses-like beard and robes and with a hippie/Zen Buddhist philosophy – Bridges imparts considerable amount of ultra-cool swagger and soul into the tech-heavy film.  His supporting cast is serviceable enough: Hedlund as his son is a decent and headstrong presence, and Wilde – harboring perhaps the most exotically beautiful eyes I’ve seen on screen in many a moon  - is both sultry and innocently vivacious as Quorra. 

TRON: LEGACY – perhaps even more than the original 1982 film – primarily exists as a state of the art technological machine to engage, dazzle, and wow us, and on that level the film is a masterful auditory/visual dynamo.  The director, Joseph Kosinski, uses modern advances in CGI and 3D-filmed cinematography (no lame upconverts here, folks!) to imagine and construct digital environments of The Grid that’s stunningly transfixing.  The film – like the most evocative examples of escapist fantasy – works by totally transporting us to its kaleidoscope of virtual panoramas that drips with atmosphere (which is punctuated immensely by the outstanding music score by Daft Punk, which simultaneously echoes the nostalgic electric cords of 1980’s film scores while reiterating the sensation of being immersed in a digital universe).  There is also a simple elegance and sophistication to the exhilarating action sequences, like an early contest between Sam and numerous digital warriors that sport deadly Frisbees of light (a nod to the original) that leads to a gravity and physics defying race set upon a dizzying racetrack with sleek and deftly maneuverable light cycles (another nod).  The makers here spare no expense at lovingly throwing odes to the original film’s innovative sights, but it amps them up to infinitely higher levels to appease the scrutinizing and demanding eyes of modern audiences.   

For as technically marvelous as the film is to engage in, TRON: LEGACY does have some minor faults, like an overall storyline that feels somewhat sluggishly conventional and, at times, leaves confused viewers asking questions regarding the ambiguities of some concepts (like, for instance, how do human “users” age in the digital world and, moreover, how do they manage to eat and drink organic material while there?  Did I miss something?).  The Tron character himself, so integral to the first film, has nothing more than a glorified cameo this time around (after all, this film is named after him and this is his legacy) which may disappoint some purists.  Sometimes the film – at least when Bridges is not cheekily playing Flynn with a religious solemnity and a capricious, Dude-like wit – takes itself a bit too seriously and its sullenness overrides the overall fun factor.  At least the great Michael Sheen shows up to satisfyingly ham it up to terrific effect as a digital creation that runs a lounge within The Grid; Sheen manages to come off as purely creepy and sinister while encompassing the high camp value for the role. 

Ultimately, though, people don’t go to films like TRON and TRON: LEGACY for its dialogue or its character dynamics; they go to marvel at these film’s spectacular and liberating artifice.  This new TRON certainly will not go down as the revolutionary game-changer as its predecessor, but this is a wonderfully envisioned and meticulously crafted sequel that faithfully takes the story and ideas of the first film and expands upon them and thoroughly re-energizes them for new audiences (which is what great sequels should do).  I may have not been bowled over by the perfunctory nature of the plot of TRON: LEGACY, but there is no doubt that this film categorically delivers on its intended promises to be a tour de force display of technological innovation and creativity.  For most of its two hours the film had me so actively engrossed in its digital universe that I lost awareness of being a passive viewer in the theatre.  Not many sci-fi fantasies have that type of out-of-body allure.   

  H O M E