Theatrical Review: Tron: Legacy

In 1982, a former employee for a huge conglomerate named ENCOM, one Kevin Flynn, with the help of two current employees, invaded ENCOM so that Flynn could get into the computer system and retrieve data. That data proved without a doubt that Kevin Flynn created some popular video games and that ENCOM had stolen those games and thus all of the amazing profits those games had generated. With the data, Flynn then took control of ENCOM for the betterment of all. But how he got that data was interesting- he was digitally transported within a cyber world and forced to fight the system in a video game fashion. That world held an interest for him that developed…

Flynn married and had a son, Sam, who after the death of his mother, Flynn raised on his own (with the help of grandparents). Flynn’s intrigue with the digital world still held with him and he was about to embark on a master plan for an integration of both which he thought would be for the betterment of all. Starting that plan, he says goodbye to his son one night and mysteriously disappears in 1989.

It’s the present day, Sam Flynn has grown up and wants nothing to do with ENCOM, other than embarrass the company at whatever opportunity he gets. Kevin Flynn’s old friend Alan Bradley, who helped him in 1982, receives a mysterious page that he passes on to Sam that comes from the old arcade that Kevin Flynn used to run. This has Sam curious and he returns to the arcade in hopes of finding out what happened to his father. And like his father before him, gets transported into the digital world to undergo a new adventure… and in the process, find his father.

When Tron first came out in 1982, it was something that was brand new for both Disney and movies- it explored the idea of digitally creating a world that traditionally would’ve been done wither with miniatures and elaborate sets. It’s story is simplistic (though viewed with hindsight is actually a lot more revealing) and it was truly an amazing thing to see, with it’s own brand of charm. I loved the first movie right from the moment that I saw it, and I still think it’s a lot of fun to watch.

Back in the day, while working for the Howard Stern show, Stuttering John Melendez used to go to various celebrity functions and get interviews with celebrities with of course that Howard Stern spin to them. Once he got a hold of Billy Crystal at one of these and Crystal knew he was being set up and tells Stuttering John that what he was doing was neither fun or funny…

… and that’s the same thing with Tron: Legacy, it’s neither fun or funny. After seeing this film, I was immediately in the mind of what I thought earlier in the year of Ridley Scott’s new take on Robin Hood which I thought deconstructed the idea of Robin Hood to the extent that it sucked all the fun and life right out of the concept in order to make it darker and more real. And that’s just what director Joseph Kosinski and the writers of Tron: Legacy have done.

I didn’t set out to hate this thing, far from it. Once seeing the original trailers and hearing that Disney was making this, I couldn’t wait to see it. If there was any sort movie from the past that could be updated now, Tron was it, especially considering the ideas of the original and the huge advances in technology. And here it was, three quarters of the way through and I was just about ready to walk out.

Where to start? Well, let’s just go for the throat first with the 3D aspect of the film. It’s just awful. The way this is shot, nothing other than a couple of scenes takes advantage of it, and then it’s not in any sort of way that’s captivating or exciting (say that movies like Resident Evil: Afterlife or Piranha 3D did). We had a trailer at the start of this for a film coming out called Born To Be Wild– a traditional nature based film, that just amazed me with it’s use of 3D and how striking and depth-filled that it was. Tron: Legacy should be milking this effect for all it’s worth, and yet it never really pops. And while the visual effects are indeed impressive in this film, their dark tone still manages to keep it all somewhat flat. If you have to see this, save yourself the extra money that you’d spend on the 3D side and see the 2D version, you won’t be missing anything at all.

But I could forgive that more if there was just something that was fun here. A big thing in comic books right now is deconstruction and making everything darker and thus a little more edgy. The way this is written, it feels like it was approached by writers that while they liked and were inspired by the original (much like comic book writers), they’re also embarrassed by aspects about it and decided that they had to do something to make it edgier and thus cooler. They get into long and tedious explanations of why Kevin Flynn has returned to this world that’s just more technobabble than anything else. Now again, I might be able to forgive that if there was some sort of fun aspect here. Some sort of sense of wonder about this world. With the original movie, we had this terrific scene where Kevin Flynn gets digitized the first time and is transported to this world and it’s just exhilarating. Here, it just happens- no fantastic fast paced journey, no sense of awe into entering into something new and exciting. Sam Flynn just shows up. Now I’m sure that the correlation with that is just how fast technology is today, and I get that, but it’s hardly fun or exciting. Some of this could’ve worked better if the film was faster paced, but we have some passages here that are just excruciatingly slow, trying to give this some unnecessary weight.

I’m not nearly as concerned with having total explanations as to the whole nature of The Grid and how it all works. I’ve noticed that that’s been a hang-up with other critics. I’m actually willing to just accept this as it is, or as it was in the original- this stylized fairy tale world in a digital realm, with the film being more science fantasy than traditional science fiction. Explanations to make this more real, at least to me would eliminate a lot of the charm of the original, so that’s one critical aspect that doesn’t really bother me. I’m more bothered that none of the characters are engaging on any sort of level.

Our main character, Sam Flynn, is pretty much a walking cliche. I’m sure that Garrett Hedlund is probably a pretty nice guy and he’s been decent in other things that I’ve seen, but he doesn’t bring anything here at all, though I’m more than willing to chalk that up more to the director and writer rather than Hedlund. Sam is angry, but he’s super-cool, being a daring motorcyclist and willing to stick it to the man by sabotaging the release of ENCOM’s newest product. He’s also got a touch of Batman inside of him as well, being willing to escape from ENCOM by climbing to the top of the building and jumping off landing below by parachute. On top of that, he’s got his own super-cool little hideaway, that’s both seedy and modern, something he could only have by benefitting from the wealth he’s obtained. All that he’s missing are some sort of tribal tattoos… that would certainly complete the cliche.

Jeff Bridges reprises his role as Kevin Flynn and we get to see him in three different stages- one as a younger Flynn, one as his digital creation, the program Clu and finally at his current age. I think the technology used to make him look younger is amazing. I’ve heard some thought of it as a little creepy and artificial, well that’s true, but for Clu, that works. Finally though, we have the current Flynn, and I guess just by his presence here, Bridges lends some sort of gravity to the whole thing. It’s just a shame that the writers seem like all that they’ve seen with Bridges is the original Tron and The Big Lebowski making him almost as much of a cliche as his son. I guess I’ll have to wait until next week for True Grit to see if the Coen Brothers can take him further, and I hope they will.

The only other member of the cast worth mentioning for me anyway is Bruce Boxleitner returning as Alan Bradley. He’s also reprising his role of Tron, using the same de-aging process used with Bridges, but that’s just used for some brief flashback sequences. He’s probably my favorite member of the whole cast. His scenes as Bradley are brief, but pivotal. I wish more had been done with Tron as a character here, but that would’ve gotten in the way of their tired father-and-son story.

I thought that a movie was going to have to work extra hard to beat Robin Hood as the worst movie I’ve seen this year, and ding, ding, it looks like we have a new winner. Tron: Legacy certainly does have some impressive visual effects, but it all gets hampered with a soulless approach, cliched characters and lackluster 3D. I really wanted to enjoy this, I truly did. Instead I was pissed off at the end of it, just stunned that all of the fun had been sucked out of it.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

19. December 2010 by Darren Goodhart
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