Thoughts on Tron: Legacy

I saw the original Tron when I was a kid.  Since it came out when I was 3, I’m pretty sure I saw it when my sister rented it for me on VHS.  I remember enjoying it, but what stuck with me were the Recognizers revolving their legs to crush stuff, the disc battles, and (of course) the light cycles.  The plot and characters didn’t really sink in too much, though, since when I saw part of it again on TV a few years ago, I was delighted to recognize Bruce Boxleitner (who I am a fan of via Babylon 5, which is one of my favourite shows ever) and Jeff Bridges (who is known for many things).

Clearly, most of my recollections were of cool bits, rather than the original movie as a whole, and thus while I wasn’t entirely disinterested when Tron: Legacy was announced, neither was I salivating in anticipation.  Have no hopes for a movie sequel is perhaps the safest way to approach them, and for me it worked out very well in this instance.

Most of what I knew about this movie before seeing it came from the presentation I had attended at Fan Expo back in August.  (I went to this more because Boxleitner was going to be there, not out of any particular interest in the movie.)  At the presentation we saw how they updated the graphics, visuals, and character designs, and I began to fell more positive about seeing the movie.  I was also mildly amused when Boxleitner asked us all to go see it—a couple of times, and on opening weekend, if possible.

(I partially failed that charge—I did see Tron: Legacy twice, quite by accident, but neither viewing was on opening weekend.  The movie seemed to do okay without me.)

All of this is my rather roundabout way of saying that I came to this movie with little in the way of personal investment or expectation.  Unlike, say, Star Wars or Star Trek, where I hope the movies live up to the awesome potential of their respective franchises, Tron: Legacy just had to be a decent movie.  I’m happy to report that—in my opinion—it succeeded.

The movie starts a few years after the original movie, with a recap of said movie told in the form of a bedtime story by Kevin Flynn (the lead from the first Tron, though not Tron himself) to his young son Sam, which ends with him promising to show his son the world-inside-a-computer known as “The Grid”.  Kevin then heads to work, turning to wave goodbye to his son, and we see a computer de-aged Jeff Bridges clearly for the first time.

(This brings up the first quibble: the CG “Young Kevin Flynn” looked okay, except around the mouth when he spoke.  I’m not sure if it was just animated poorly, or seemed too disconnected from the rest of the face, but it threw me off for a moment.  Perhaps it is the uncanny valley at work.)

Flynn heads to work, and is never seen again.  Sam inherits his company, and grows up thinking he has been abandoned.  He avoids any responsibility to do with the company until one night his father’s old friend Alan Bradley (played by Boxleitner, who was also Tron) tells him of a message from his father’s old arcade building and convinces him to check it out.  Sam stumbles across his father’s hidden office, and gets sucked into the Grid where the story really begins….

Structurally, Sam’s discovery of the Grid for the first time allows viewers unfamiliar with the original movie to “ride along” with him as he makes his discoveries and has things explained to him.  Fans of the original also get brought up-to-date by this mechanism.  It’s an old approach, and a bit predictable, but it does the job in introducing the world and the major conflicts within it.

The story, for all the setup we’re given, is really about a father and son reconnecting, and the father managing to overcome the mistakes he made that kept them apart.  This is punctuated with a lot of cool fight scenes—the disc battles and light cycles return, in upgraded form—a bit of character development, and a notional threat to the real world of programs escaping the Grid to run amok in reality.

All of that is really only secondary to the story of Kevin and Sam, though, which I think is a source of a lot of the complaints about the movie.  It throws a lot of ideas and plot points out there, and with most of them it fails to explore them in depth.  If, as a viewer, you can fill in the gaps on your own and be satisfied that the depth is there, just not on screen, then I think you might find the movie enjoyable.  Otherwise, you’ll be full of “but why…” and “what about…” questions.  The external plot points are resolved, but the story between Kevin and Sam is what concludes.

As such, I quite enjoyed this movie.  It is not without its flaws, and I’m not sure I can recommend it to a fully general audience, but it is good without being great.  I enjoyed both of my viewings of it, was satisfied with the ending, and yet was still left wanting to know more.

Before I wrap up, I feel I should offer my complaints as well.

  • The de-aged Jeff Bridges that bothered me in the opening scene of the movie reappears later on, as well, and has drawn heavy criticism.  The later appearances don’t bother me so much, since in the context of the movie it is not the same character and everyone is in the Grid then, so creepy CG people make a sort of sense.  I  don’t think it was on purpose, though—I just think that technology is not quite there just yet.
  • Recognizers didn’t crush anybody!
  • The 3D seemed unnecessary.  While it didn’t give me too much of a headache (a rarity for 3D movies), it didn’t really add much to the movie, and was barely noticeable.  If any movie was going to wow me with 3D, it should have been this one, and yet, meh.  I’d rather have watched in 2D with the brighter picture, like I did for the “real world” parts at the beginning.  I just want 3D to die die die.
  • I wanted to see more of Tron!  He is the namesake character, after all.
  • I think the movie offered up too many ideas, and failed to fully explore all of them.  As such, this is a source of discontent in the viewer.  The ideas on display are good, but they just couldn’t handle them all in this movie, and so there has to be a bit of a let-down feeling after that setup.

Ultimately, however, these criticism are pretty minor compared to what I could say about some movies out there.  While I don’t think this movie is for everyone, Tron: Legacy is a solid movie that I quite enjoyed, and I hope there is another one.  Preferably with lots of Tron, Recognizers crushing things, and answers to the questions and ideas introduced in this film.