Well, here we are. Three years of hyping and promotion, in addition
to twenty years since the original film, have brought us to this point.
For months, there have been hordes of movie geeks all hyped up for Tron:
Legacy, and regular readers of this blog will know I count myself
among them. But then, just a few weeks ago, something happened: The
reviews came in and they were decidedly mixed. Over the past few days,
I’ve read reviews comparing this film to The Phantom Menace and
the last Indiana Jones movie in terms of overhyped disappointments. Talk
about harsh. Fortunately, I’m glad to say such claims are exaggerated,
but there’s no denying that the film has some very serious failings.
Speaking of which, there’s something I want to address: Back in my
Tron Night coverage, I said that Clu looked “incomparably better” than
he did in the promos and trailers. I want to apologize for that. I don’t
think I’ve ever been more objectively wrong about anything in any of my
other entries to date. Maybe it’s just because the shot I saw back then
was only a split-second long, or maybe it was wishful thinking on my
part. I don’t know, but having gotten a better look at Jeff Bridges’
youth-enizing effect, there’s not a doubt in my mind that it still looks
like really bad CGI.
Having said that, I didn’t mind Clu’s appearance so much, since the
effect was just good enough to sell us a computer-made imitation a few
steps under the real thing. But when the same effect was used to depict
Young Flynn in flashbacks, I found myself thinking about how much better
the film would’ve been if we never saw Flynn’s face until Clu. Just
It’s a real shame that this film has such a prominent blemish,
because it’s otherwise visually astounding. The costumes and set design
are superb (though I thought the helmet masks were kind of redundant),
the effects are phenomenal, the 3D looks great and the action scenes are
staggering, with variable speed utilized throughout like I’ve never
The action scenes are all unique and they are a lot of fun to watch.
The disc fights and lightcycle matches from the first movie are both
back with some very fun modifications. The film also includes a CQC
brawl and climaxes with a mesmerizing dogfight. I do have a couple of
complaints, though. First is that the lightcycle match is too darn big.
It’s impossible to get any bearings or sense of geography, especially
since ramps and trapdoors seem to materialize out of nowhere. Secondly,
there’s our first major action scene, in which our hero takes a skydive
and tries to evade police. This scene didn’t work for me because it
lacked any sense of danger. The scene’s presentation failed to convince
me that there were no stuntmen, wires or safety nets. Not that I
actually saw any of those things, mind you, but Hedlund completely
sucked at selling it.
I hate to say it, but Garrett Hedlund just doesn’t have the chops to
pull this off. He’s got the energy and he’s got the enthusiasm, but he
simply doesn’t have the charisma. This is especially obvious during his
scenes with Jeff Bridges, particularly their first one together. Both
actors are giving it their all, but Bridges is blowing the star of our
film off the screen.
Bridges himself does a decent job here, essentially playing Kevin
Flynn as a pacifist Buddha figure. Unfortunately, he took this too far
and injected his performance with laid-back hippie talk. Yes, Jeff
Bridges brings The Dude into The Grid. I wish I knew why he did that or
why nobody tried to stop him, since every “radical” he uttered sent my
audience roaring with unintentional laughter.
I don’t really have any such problems with his portrayal of Clu,
though I do take issue with his sidekick, Jarvis. Yes, Clu has a
cowardly, snivelling, annoying, useless comedy relief sidekick. Could
someone please remind me how long it’s been since we last had one of
those? Also, why did anyone think they were a good idea in the first
place? I’m glad to say that Jarvis dies a hilarious and satisfying
death, but not nearly soon enough.
In a similar vein, the movie also features Michael Sheen.
Unfortunately, he might as well be playing a virus for all the digital
scenery he chews up. I’ll grant that Castor does move the plot forward
in some important ways, but he does so in the most prolonged and grating
Quite easily the best performance in this movie comes from Olivia
Wilde, who’s clearly having the time of her life here. What’s more,
Quorra is very wonderfully played with a sense of awe and curiosity
about the Flynns and their world, but not so much that it overwhelms the
character. It also helps that though she does suffer “damsel in
distress” syndrome a couple of times, it certainly isn’t because she
can’t hold her own in a fight. Finally, though there is something of a
love subplot, the film is refreshingly gentle about it. The Sam/Quorra
chemistry is never oversold and the relationship isn’t forced into a
hasty conclusion. In fact, I don’t think they ever get a kiss. I think
it’s a nice change of pace, personally.
Nevertheless, there’s no getting around the fact that this story and
its presentation suck. There are more plot holes and bad creative
choices than I can possibly keep track of, but I’m going to try anyway.
To start with, this whole movie takes place on a computer that’s been
hidden away and completely isolated for 20 years. This premise
completely blocks out such influential and expanding technologies as the
Internet, wi-fi, cell phones, PDAs or digital photography. It would’ve
been fun to see how any of those might look in the world of Tron, don’t
On a similar note, how obsolete must this computer be by now? I
looked it up: Back in 1989, when Flynn disappeared, the world’s most
advanced supercomputer was the ETA10-G/8 at Florida State University,
with a peak processing speed of 10.3 GFLOPS. In 2010, I’m typing
this review on a common MacBook powered by a 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
processor with a peak speed of 19.2 GFLOPS. And I won’t even get
started on how ancient the coding language must be in The Grid.
Also, is this computer supposed to have been running continuously for
the past two decades without any kind of maintenance? When’s the last
time you saw a PC half as old that could boot up without crashing? By
now, that computer should be falling apart, with all the programs inside
praying for the users to spare them (how’s that for a sequel idea? Call
it Tron: Apocalypse).
Anyway, back in ’89, Flynn discovered some unique programs in The
Grid called ISOs. These were fully sentient programs that spontaneously
came into being. That’s right: This computer half as powerful as my
laptop was somehow able to write programs just as capably as any human
— if not more so — but without any human assistance.
Okay, 1) this is completely impossible, even with the most advanced
of technology we currently have, and 2) Flynn seems to think that this
would change everything from religion to medicine, but he never explains
how. He calls it the salvation of mankind. I call it THE GODDAMN TECHNOLOGICAL
SINGULARITY! Judgment Day, people! The Butlerian Jihad! The
machine uprising! Fortunately, Clu saw the ISOs as imperfections and had
them all killed. Flynn calls it heartless genocide and the movie
agrees. I disagree, calling it the salvation of mankind as a species.
Back to the story, Clu distracts Flynn long enough to trap him in The
Grid. The magic digitizing laser only stays on for eight hours at a
time, you see (actually much less than that from our perspective, as
time in The Grid is hyperaccelerated). This immediately begs the
question of why this didn’t play a role in the original film, but we get
A couple decades later, Clu has claimed dominion over the whole
system. He somehow sends a page to Alan Bradley — Tron’s user in the
previous film — tricking some foolish user (read: Sam) into reopening
the laser portal. Clu plans to use this portal to materialize in the
real world and bring armies of programs with him to take over the real
and digital worlds. But first, he needs Kevin Flynn’s identity disc to
send programs through the laser. And suddenly, I understood why Disney
kept such tight wraps on the electronic side of the story.
I mean, I get why Clu wants world domination. He’s a program gone
wrong and he’s just doing all he knows how to do. But why does he so
badly need Kevin’s disc? Why wouldn’t Sam’s work just as well? Why
didn’t Clu wait until he had the disc in hand instead of giving himself
an 8-hour time limit to secure it? How did he send the page? And why is
the portal waaaay out in the middle of nowhere, instead of in the city
where Sam materialized?
This screenplay is seriously underdone. The plot is riddled with
holes and contrivances (there’s a Solar Sailer being built nearby
without any security! How convenient!), yet the film is crammed with
long stretches of bad exposition, half of which is totally pointless.
The dialogue is full of clunkers and the story is predictable in several
However, I will grant that the religious parallels are well-used. One
of my favorite aspects of the original movie was in how it cleverly
painted humans as unknowing gods to a digital world of our own creation,
filled with workers that we made to serve our needs. This perspective
puts the story of Tron: Legacy in a completely new light, as Clu
becomes a mortal who has not only found a foolproof way into heaven, but
a way to become a god, take the place over and bring his minions with
him. The angle is subtle, but it’s there. On a similar note, Kevin makes
some very effective use out of his “god” powers, though Sam sadly does
not. More perplexingly, Kevin is shown to have completely unhindered
control of any program within reach, except Clu. Bollocks.
I won’t discuss the score, as I’ve already talked about the
soundtrack at great length. I’ll only add that the score sounds every
bit as good with the movie as I’d hoped. The sound design was also
ingenious, particularly in how voice modulation was used to subtly hint
at how sentient the programs were.
References to the original film are hit-and-miss. They range from fun
little easter eggs to unobtrusive callbacks, all with the exception of
an awkward line near the opening that I won’t spoil here. The son of
Dillinger, the previous movie’s villain, makes a brief appearance, but
it’s as inconsequential as anything else in the real world. Of course,
the big one is in the appearance of our eponymous hero and I’m glad to
say that the movie does fill us in on what’s happened to him since the
last film. Unfortunately, his return to the spotlight is a last-minute
pile of cliched, unexplained, deus ex machina bullshit that accomplishes
precisely nothing, except maybe leave a story thread dangling for the
Tron: Legacy was not unsalvageable. There’s enthusiasm and
love for the movie pouring out of every frame, the visual appeal is
undeniable and the religious allegory is well-used. All told, it’s a
pretty wild ride. Yet considering the amount of hype and preparation
that went into this, it could have and should have been much better than
it was. If only the script had gone through a few more drafts and made
at least a token effort to utilize advances in computer technology, it
might have stood a chance. Finding a different male lead and ditching
Jarvis entirely might have helped, too.
Still, I remain optimistic. After all, a lot of the screenplay
problems stem from the fact that they had thirty years of backstory to
exposit. Maybe now that all that air’s been cleared, Disney can put more
focus on delivering a great story for the sequel. Assuming all the bad
press doesn’t hurt the box office grosses, of course.