Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tron:Legacy - REVIEWED!

I got a chance to see Tron:Legacy earlier this week and figured I'd share some insights and observations. Note that this review is broke into two parts - the main article and then a segment below involving spoiler stuff. So read on! Find out if there is substance behind all the slick marketing that Disney is throwing at you!

Short answer - Mostly yes. In a variety of ways, this is a great movie. In a few others - ways that Sci-Fi movies sometimes tend to fall short - it isn't great but it is pretty solid. Visually, musically, etc., it is top notch. The story is good enough for Sci-Fi and it definitely is entertaining. The 3D aspect ain't all bad either. So Sci-Fi and action-adventure fans will dig this.

Tron:Legacy - REVIEWED!

One question up front - we're all familiar with the original Tron, yes?


Well, luckily you don't need to know much about the original movie. In one of the things that the writers did very well, they lay a good foundation and Tron:Legacy stands mostly on its own.

Basic Storyline

For Tron:Legacy's story, we have son Sam trying to handle being abandoned by his father, Kevin Flynn, when he is given an opportunity to find him. This little adventure brings him to the world Flynn discovered in the 1982 movie, where the electronic computer world manifests itself as an action-adventure landscape called "The Grid." Sam tries to find his father while trying to survive a gladiator-type arena. This much you can get from the trailers and I'll leave it at that for now. See below for a more detail, including spoiler information.

Suffice to say, it is quite a show. We'll break down the acting, cinematography, music a bit before getting into the story proper as that contains some spoiler information.


Jeff Bridges does a very good job as Kevin Flynn. He does a solid job portraying a man who has been confined for years, and is weighted down by certain issues. He re-captures the original character of Kevin Flynn very well. The same guy who will also dominate the December theaters in True Grit plays an almost 30 year old character in a way that not only is true to what the character was in the '82 film, but what you would expect him to become under the circumstances.

Garrett Hedlund portrays Flynn's son, Sam. New to the Tron scene, he embraces the role of frustrated, rebellious youth. He delivers both serious and humorous lines well and is overall believable. He also is a good action figure.

The Flynns' sidekick is female action hero, Quorra, and Olivia Wilde is pretty good at portraying the character's duality - on one hand, she is a vulnerable innocent, but on the other, she is a full-on action hero, starting with our introduction to the character as she pulls Sam's bacon from the frying pan. Now it isn't over-the-top amazing, and there are moments where the depth is a bit wanting, but on the whole, that is a small issue. Overall she is all most want in a Sci-fi female hero.

The fourth main character of the movie brings us back to Bridges. Kevin Flynn created a Tron-like program to help him develop The Grid. As he created the program, Clu, it looks like 1985 Flynn. While not perfect, the moviemakers do a good job of using images of Bridges from back in the day and digitally imposes it over Jeff's actual acting. The effect is slightly obvious, and that actually adds to the character a bit. Clu is the enemy - a program who overthrew its user - and has very evil intentions.

Bridges plays Clu well. The character is believable and true to his role in the film. Could he have been a bit more intimidating? (Christopher Walken/Prophecy) Yes. Could he have been more dastardly? Yes. (Ralph Fiennes/Schindler's List). But he certainly does the necessary evil things - double-crossing, controlling, lying, conniving, powerful - well enough to give Clu life and presence.

Tron returns - but to what extent I'll save for the spoiler section.

Overall, it is a good cast. The ancillary characters add just variety and uniqueness to complete the tapestry enough. Again, this isn't Saving Private Ryan - it is a good Sci-Fi movie, and overall the characters are more than they need to be to carry the story.

Cinematography and Music

The visuals and the sound are stunning. If you don't want to go out and buy a motorcycle or fly a plane after seeing this movie, then something is wrong with you. The chase and action scenes are gripping, and the overall picture painted of The Grid and its menagerie is spot on - definitely what the original writers and producers would have wanted from the '82 film if they would have had the technology. I won't say it is at the same level as Avatar, but it is definitely fun stuff and got this motorcyclist's juices flowing.

And I can't say enough about Daft Punk. Maybe it is just my personal taste, but it seemed that the music gave the movie a up-tempo, high-tech feel that the music in the original movie lacked. In many ways, the 1982 movie was ground-breaking, especially in terms of visuals and overall cinematography. But the music sounded like it was done on a personal Casio keyboard. No issues with Legacy - this soundtrack moves.

So overall, I give Tron:Legacy a B+. It is what it was supposed to be - a very good looking and sounding Sci-Fi movie, with above average acting.

The problem comes in when you look at the story, and here is where we have to get into spoilers, so for those who haven't seen the movie and don't want spoilers, just know that the story is good enough for a Sci-Fi movie and go enjoy it. Then come back and let me know if you agree or disagree about my comments below.



Okay, for those who have come with me - let's get to the story. I will give enough background so you'll understand my points, but not so much that you'll know the entire story. Overall, know that I think the story is good enough for what it is needed to be - just not as good as it could have been.


Sam finds out that the reason why his father never came back for him was that he was trapped in The Grid when Clu overthrows him and he doesn't make it back to the portal in time. To keep Clu from getting to the real world, Flynn refuses to try to escape.

The "miracle" that Flynn mentions to his son early in the movie are an electronic race of beings that exist in The Grid - "Iso"s. Apparently they had the knowledge to cure cancer and all of the world's ills, but Clu considered them an aberration and overthrew Flynn and exterminated the Isos.

Clu's overthrow smacks a bit of Frankenstein, a bit of the Christopher Walken movie, Prophecy. It is relatively believable, if somewhat shallowly presented.

Sam obviously wants to get his father out, and eventually we see that getting Quorra - the last remaining Iso - out is Flynn's main goal.

Tron is basically Clu's right hand fighter, apparently reprogrammed to serve Clu rather than the Users.

Close enough for jazz, but what is missing

Overall, the story is good enough to be a vehicle for the action and visualization. The acting and music takes this from traditional Sci-Fi geek-only-love to a pretty accessible movie for most people. I expect there will be a pretty good buzz about the movie and it will do relatively well at the box office.

My issue is there are a few things that could have been written better. The Grid seems small - especially in the world of the internet we live in. Everyone seems to have an iPad or iPhone, their own webpage and internet personality, etc. Why not take advantage of that largess to make the threat more tangible?

And a bigger issue is this - with the original villain an Master Control Program and its programmer, Dillinger, how hard would it be to visualize some "Skynet" type defense program that breaks away from the government (with the help of its User?) to try to dominate the internet? With movies like "War Games", "Terminator", etc., there is ample opportunity to make the evil in The Grid tangible to us and the real world.

And the issue of the Isos seems too simply explained, tied up and dropped. Where did they come from? Why were they so special? Certainly, the opportunity to have a more complex rebellion within The Grid, as well as fleshing out the issues surrounding the Isos, was missed.

As I discussed with a friend after the movie, the mythology of the movie lasts 127 minutes. Good enough to occupy you during the movie, but doesn't really survive much examination.

So Alan is Flynn's best friend - why doesn't he check up on Flynn when he doesn't show up originally? Surely he has an idea where Flynn might be.

Tron returns and is Clu's No. 1 warrior - but we don't know how his "I fight for the Users" *main programming* is overriden by Clu for so many cycles.

There are a variety of other little issues you could pick if you took the time to do so. Personally, I know I could go back to see the movie again and enjoy it - it is that good on the other parts and the story line is good enough for a Sci-Fi movie. Again, the acting and music take this from your usual Sci-Fi pulp fiction and make it something good enough to be accessible to most moviegoers.

Just don't expect it to all tie neatly in a bow - that isn't going to happen. So enjoy Sam's rebellion - it is tangible enough to be enjoyable. The music, the action - all great fun. Quorra isn't La Femme Nikita (the movie, not the television series) great, but she definitely can fight and drive a car fast, and carries herself well. And Bridges does well to portray Flynn and Clu. So have fun with it, and thank your lucky stars we didn't have another horrible re-imagining with Tron:Legacy. We have a good, solid, fun Sci-Fi action film.


I'll be back after the movie comes out with some of my thoughts about the ending. For now, know that again, within the scope of the movie, it works well enough, but check back over the weekend to see where I think it might have fallen short of where it could have been.