Tron Legacy

December 18, 2010

Gosh, where to start.  I’ve been waiting all year to be able to write this review.  And kinda dreading it.  Before the movie started I told myself, as long as it’s not as bad as Terminator Salvation, it’ll be fine.  It can’t possibly be as bad as Terminator Salvation.  So, that’s apparently become my benchmark for how bad a big Hollywood FX movie can get.  Good to know.  I’m happy to report, Tron Legacy is much better than that.

The short review:  Hell, yeah!

The longer review, with bonus analysis of cyberpunk literature in general, and very minor spoilers:

I could nitpick.  The film wasn’t perfect.  But it did so much right.  It respected its source material, made subtle and not-so-subtle nods to the fans (like when Sam turns on the power to the arcade and Journey is playing on the jukebox).  The action sequences were smooth and beautiful, they all strung together in a mostly cohesive plot.  I liked the characters.  I looked forward to seeing what happened next.  The wormhole sequence when Sam went through to the Grid?  Smashing.  Got me hook, line, and sinker.  I spent the whole movie chortling from the sheer joy of it all.

The reviews kinda make me feel sorry for people who seem to shut down all interest in a movie the moment it shows off some geeky bit of sci fi neepery.  They’ll say it’s all visual and that the story is weak.  They said that about the first Tron, too.  And I think I’ve figured out some things.

First off, here’s the movie I saw:  This is the story of a man who was consumed by his revolutionary vision — literally.  He vanished from the world without a trace, and his disappearance irrevocably damaged his young son.  Twenty years later, his son finds him, and they struggle for some kind of reconciliation, to replace all the time they’ve lost.  It doesn’t go very well.  (Kevin:  “So, you go to college?”  Sam:  “Yeah, Caltech.”  Kevin (beaming):  “Ah, my alma mater!”  Sam:  “Um, yeah.  I dropped out.”  Kevin (grasping, now):  “So, um, you have a job? Girlfriend?”  Sam:  “I have a dog.  Marvin.  He’s a rescue.”  Kevin: ….)  These are two people who have failed each others’ expectations.  And now they have to work together to defeat a villain who is all the more heinous because he’s Kevin’s shadow-self, with bad programming — Clu was meant to build the perfect system, but perfection was never defined (in what I can’t help but think is a nod to Hal 9000, just like Kevin’s room has to be a nod to Dave’s room at the end of 2001).

And then — and this is where I think a lot of people lose interest in this movie, not to mention the original Tron — they launch into a classic fantasy quest adventure story.  Because most cyberpunk stories are fantasy quest adventures, set in cyberspace instead of random medieval kingdoms.  The heroes (or Hiro) have to go on a journey, to find the thing, to rescue the princess/AI, to defeat their enemy, to save the world.  And most cyberpunk stories, like most fantasy quest adventures, have messianic undertones.  The hero isn’t just the hero, he’s the Chosen One with the mad skilz to solve to the puzzle.  He’s the User, or the Son of the Creator.  It’s all Lord of the Rings but with computers.  The disk instead of the ring.  And you know what?  That’s okay.  And despite what any number of reviewers will tell you, it doesn’t detract from the human story of a son trying to reunite with the father who abandoned him.  I’m wondering if people just have trouble reconciling the very classic fantasy story with the futuristic SF setting and then just fail to get it?  Hmm…

I got the feeling the filmmakers read a lot of cyberpunk as kids, and got all this.  This was so chock full of old-school cypberpunk plot bunnies — hardware hacking in the megacorp server farm, spontaneously generating AI lifeforms, gratuitous nightclub fight scenes — I just about imploded.  So yes, I enjoyed the movie quite a lot.

Plus — it’s really, really beautiful.  That climactic dogfight?  That actually gave us a chance to see what was happening?  Gorgeous.

A real conversation that happened after the film:

Me:  Well, just about all cyberpunk literature is messianic and this goes right along with that.

Max:  I suppose you could make a case for that.

Me:  It’s not exactly a neo idea.

Max:  Shall we make a count?

And then the rest of the group beat us up.


15 Responses to “Tron Legacy”

  1. I’m so glad they got it right. Thanks for sharing this. I’m super excited to see this movie and I really loved the original Tron 🙂


  2. Charles Monn Says:

    I loved the movie. In many ways, I thought it was better than the original. Better acting, better visuals, and a more cohesive story (always been bothered by the fact that Kevin was immediately made ENCOM CEO after bringing down Dillinger). I would have liked to see Kevin’s light cycle put to better use. Cindy Morgan could/should have made an appearance. I would have liked to see more manipulation of the system (hacking).

  3. carriev Says:

    Yeah — I also have a “wish” list of things they could have done, things I would fix. (I think I’d nix every single flashback or bit of film with young Sam.)

    But the bottom line is IT DIDN’T SUCK!

  4. David Bowles Says:

    You might have swayed me over from the critics at large. I’m still feeling the sting from Terminator: Salvation and to a lesser extent, Star Wars prequels. I might check this one out.

  5. EF Kelley Says:

    I also liked the misdirect at the beginning where we’re introduced to Dillinger’s son. Quite nicely done, all around. Unlike a lot of Hollywood these days, I didn’t feel cheated to pay full price.

    And did anyone happen to catch the Transformers trailer? I was quite interested in the setup right up until I saw ‘From Director Michael Bay…’

    At which point I said ‘Oh, no, this isn’t…’


    Me: “Oh, god, no… “

  6. Jakk Says:

    I have been unable to see the movie yet due to work, but this is the movie i have been most hyped to see since Iron Man(the first movie).

    I am wondering…did you see it with enhanced visuals(IMAX, 3-D,etc..)? Did it add or detract to the movie?

  7. carriev Says:

    I saw it in 3-D — and I think it enhanced the movie. It did the Wizard of Oz thing: the real world was all filmed in 2-D, and the 3-D only came in when we enter the Grid. It was very subtly and nicely done, I barely realized what was happening, just that the Grid world had this amazing depth and texture to it…

  8. Alex J. Kane Says:

    You bring some good points about the way the general public judges SF. Often it’s as if they expect movies like Tron, Blade Runner, etc., to actually predict the future accurately rather than tell a great story. A ridiculous expectation.

    I, too, noticed the nod to Dave’s room at the end of 2001 in Tron: Legacy. Had me smiling. Didn’t make the connection between CLU and HAL, but there’s certainly something to that, as well.

    Enjoyed your story in Lightspeed a couple months back. Congratulations on making it into the Year’s Best anthology.

  9. Jakk Says:

    Thanks Carrie, i was wondering if i should watch it in 3-D or not, and plan now on doing so.

    Interesting thing about the 2001 comparrison. Last week, complete unreleased footage was discovered of 2001 that the director cut from the movie.

    I also discovered that on the 2002, 25th Anniversary Edition of Tron, there were scenes cut from the movie, dealing with rooms which the programs had.

    Just very strange both those things popped up.

  10. Andrew Says:

    I was really interested in your “In Defense of Tron” post, particularly with regard to the predictive nature of the movie. Did this movie have that same quality, or would you say it was more of a resolution of the original story? Or both?

  11. carriev Says:

    I didn’t think it was quite as predictive…more adventure oriented than trying to be a metaphor for the online world. Part of the reason for this — this time, the Grid was on a closed mainframe, without a network.

    The bit about spontaneously arising AI’s is kind of an old cyberpunk trope that still gets argued around a lot. I don’t know that I’d call it predictive.

    There was some commentary on the current software industry, when Encom launches a new operating system — “What makes this version different?” “It has a 12 on the box…”

  12. Kristian Says:

    Given the discussion here, I will have to make time to see this. I am heartened to hear that the 3-D appears to be well done.

  13. Markysan Says:

    I saw this today and my my mind keeps referring to it as “The Dig. Lebowski” (where Dig.=digital) I just wasn’t seeing Kevin Flynn… I saw The Dude playing Jeff Bridges playing Kevin Flynn.

    The film did not live up to my expectations, but that may be because my expectations were really high. I DID enjoy the film… just not the hippie-chic Kevin Flynn character. I liked CLU better.

  14. I saw Tron: Legacy with my son on Thursday. It was fun, but the boy (5 y.o.) didn’t really follow much except the fighting and motor/light cycles.

    I’m a little confused with regards the Tron character. I mean like, huh? I must have missed something there.

  15. Ty Says:

    You are blaming the wrong thing for people not liking it, Carrie.

    It isn’t that it’s nerdy or fantasy or anything like that.

    It’s that the dialog is lame. Find one five minute section of the movie in which at least one character doesn’t go on a long expository rant. Betcha can’t.

    A rewrite by someone who can actually write dialog would have done wonders for this movie.

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