I’ve been known to change my mind about movies after a bit of time has passed. Like that time I stood in line for this little film called Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and convinced myself that I liked it enough to go and see it again. And that other time I stood in line for another tiny, little movie called Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and was absolutely positive that it was better than its predecessor (even though I spent nearly half of the movie cringing any time Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman were on screen together). And then there was that other time I stood in line for another Star Wars film…well, you get the point.
Sometimes it takes a little time to process what I’ve just seen in a theater before I can truly make that thumbs up/thumbs down decision. Especially when it comes to tent pole,summer blockbuster films that are marketed endlessly and rabidly looked forward to by fans like myself.
The marketing of a film is a very delicate thing. Obviously the producers want to get their movie in front of as many people as possible. But sometimes movie advertising can go a little awry as it attempts to navigate the treacherous waters between too much and too little. Tron: Legacy, in my opinion, is one of these movies. Disney hyped this film so much that it couldn’t possibly live up to the expectations it created among the built in fan base or even the average movie goer. After spending over two years and a shit-ton of money (that’s an exact figure from Disney) trying to generate interest in this movie, insider analysts began speculating that the movie would tank at the box office. With rumor widely circulating film blogs and industry websites that the movie would probably be a financial disaster for Disney, and at least one very negative early review, things were not looking good for Tron: Legacy.
Fortunately, I know myself. I didn’t let the hype get me. I had already re-watched Tron (the 1982 film that Tron: Legacy is a direct sequel of) in early fall, and that did a good bit to dispel any misplaced, nostalgic notions I held that it was anything other than a neat science fiction film from my childhood. I began to ignore all news items, clips, behind the scenes vignettes, and/or official trailers that seemed to hit my RSS reader every hour. I dialed down my excitement and anticipation for the movie to a more normal level and decided to go see it without any expectations. Now that’s arguably impossible after looking forward to a film for so long, but I think I gave it a reasonably good try.
Tron: Legacy picks up 27 years after the events of the first movie, and introduces us to Kevin Flynn’s (Jeff Bridges) son Sam. It’s explained that the elder Flynn disappeared about 7 years after the events of Tron, and little Sam has had to grow up without dear old dad. The years without the elder Flynn have made Sam bitter and he expresses his resentment at his father’s disappearance by pranking Encom, the very company his father built into a success.
He’s sure his father had some sort of emotional breakdown and abandoned him for a relatively stress free life on some South American beach, but Flynn’s old pal and partner Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) doesn’t think so. And when he gets a page from Kevin’s old office he decides to pay a visit to Sam to try and bring him around.
Sam reluctantly decides to cruise by the arcade and see what he can find out. One thing leads to another and (spoilers ahead for those of you that have been living under a rock) before he knows it he is in The Grid being disrobed by some nano-hotties. As it turns out dear old dad didn’t abandon little Sam. While Sam was at home sticking pencils up his nose and sucking his thumb, daddy was spending his evenings in the Grid attempting to build some sort of digital Utopia. When the natives began to get a little restless, and before he could do anything to stop it, his digital creation, Clu, had staged a coup and trapped him in the digital world.
The rest of the film is spent in Grid with Sam and company as they attempt to overthrow Clu and his minions, rescue the elder Flynn, and restore peace to The Grid.
Bridges conjures The Dude from The Big Lebowski a bit too much here for my taste, even if the two character’s quasi-hippie philosophies do seem in line with each other. And never mind what you’ve heard about Garrett Hedlund’s portrayal of Sam being flat and emotionless. This is simply nonsense from fanboys predicated on trailer footage alone. He holds his own both in the digital world of The Grid and in the real world. Olivia Wilde as Quorra, the last of a species of digital beings, is the stand out of this film. Michael Sheen is very fun, but his part of the story felt like unnecessary exposition and ultimately could have been left on the cutting room floor. And this is the crux of my biggest complaint about Tron: Legacy. The pacing through the second act is slow and a bit tedious and could have benefitted from a bit more critical editing.
The Grid is gloriously rendered and has to be one of the most interesting interpretations of a fictional world I’ve ever seen on film. The CGI young Kevin Flynn looks fake, but everything else is so much fun to look at that even the most disparaging FX fan will have their attention diverted long enough to forget about the digital Bridges’ floating head. Vehicles are all really cool, chases are exceptionally well done, and there is just so much to look at. Odds are you already know that a lot has been done on this film to satisfy the FX quotient, so I won’t spend anymore time here.
Much has been said about the Daft Punk soundtrack to this movie, and I have to agree that it was spot on for the pervasively dark, yet glitzy retro ‘80’s inspired moods and themes used throughout the film. It’s punchy and bass heavy where it needs to be, but strangely (considering the source) symphonic and elaborate in just the right places. Daft Punk manages to tie the two films together musically without seeming like homage and without ripping off the original score and 80’s electronica in general.
The story of Tron: Legacy actually had a bit more emotional resonance than the first film. Characters are developed better and the writers try to convey something a little more deep about our changing world than Tron did in its own time. Granted, the philosophy in Legacy is pretty typical Hollywood, pseudo-hippie/Asian bullshit, but at least they tried to say something more about our world than “Look! We’re inside a computer! Isn’t that cool?”
Legacy has been compared to Avatar probably because they are both effects heavy films that take place in a completely alien world (though Legacy’s world is arguably a lot more alien), they are both 3D, they both had bloated budgets, and were over-hyped. Fair enough. Avatar, however, delivered a pretty cynical (and predictable) commentary on the future of mankind, while Legacy seems to have a more upbeat take on the human race. And even though Legacy’s philosophy starts out looking like a pretty cold piece of liberal Hollywood nonsense, I took away from it a much more positive message that seemed to hint at a higher power and intelligent design. The film draws more than one parallel between it’s story and popular religious ideas (Clu smashing the apple in Flynn’s cliff side home shades of Adam and Eve?). Taken as a whole, I felt like the themes and philosophy behind the movie were well thought out and fairly well handled.
Tron: Legacy is a good movie. Period. It’s not Dr. Zhivago, but it’s not 10,000 BC either. It is at times visually and audibly stark and eerily reminiscent of the original Tron. The story is neither groundbreaking nor is it a bore. Legacy is a thrill ride, and at times emotionally engaging. In this way it is the perfect sequel to 1982’s Tron. It manages to be like its predecessor, and yet a better film over all.
And for the record, I think 3D is a silly gimmick. But it works here. Trust me, folks.