Unreal Movie Review: Tron Legacy

It’s a risky venture to sink over $200M into a sequel to a movie that first premiered 28 years ago, beloved mainly by a hardcore group of geeks, most of whom have never been clamoring for a new installment.

The original Tron is a fun film, and if you can get past the most dated special effects in the history of cinema, it all becomes rather charming, with a somewhat interesting plot to boot.

Tron Legacy, however, doesn’t work in quite the same way. Yes, it’s very impressive to see how all the little bleeps and bloops have been updated in the last 30 years, but if you want a movie, not a tech demo, you’ll probably be disappointed.

Even the visuals aren’t as extraordinary as you might anticipate from a movie being sold almost entirely on its eye candy. When you’ve seen one neon glowing bodysuit, you’ve seen them all, and pasting the same style onto motorcycles, planes, trains, buildings, etc. might looks cool for the first twenty minutes, but after a while, the harsh contrast actually started to give me a headache, and fight scenes look more like rave dance-offs than something to truly ooo and ahh about.

“Prepare to be pixelated!”

The story was obviously going to play second fiddle to all these flashy light effects, but even if you’re not expecting much, it’s still kind of a let down.

Kevin Flynn, hero of Tron and CEO of software company Encom disappears one day after heading into  work late one night. He never returns, and his son, Sam, grows up an orphan, never wanting to get involved with his father’s company, other than the occasional act of corporate espionage against the brand that he is actually the majority shareholder of.

But one day, he’s paged to his father’s old arcade, where he is zapped into “the Grid” where programs live like humans, though their daily activities appear to be mainly focused on gladiator matches and genocide. Sam discovers that a program his father created in his own likeness, Clu, is running the show, and has kept his father trapped there for years. Kevin wants to get out, Clu wants the same thing. Wait what?

The central storyline is based around Clu trying to build and army, and escape from The Grid into real life. Whether that means he wants to invade the world’s computer systems and rework them to his purposes, or actually manifest himself and his minions as flesh and bone soldiers isn’t made explicitly clear, and when the answer is revealed in the film’s closing moments, it’s even more headscratching.

Not a whole lot makes sense in Tron, if you look at the series as a self-contained sci-fi universe. It starts with the premise that programs operate like people in the Grid, but it stops there, and refuses to venture any further. We see them cheer on other programs duking it out to the death in the arena, battling with light discs and lightcycles. We see them clubbing it up with Daft Punk inside a hi-rise nightclub. But that’s it. This is all we see.

“We need to drink here? “

What does any of this have to do with the inner workings of a circuit or computer? And if this instead is meant to be a like a Horton Hears a Who mini-society that lives in all our electronics, we don’t learn terribly much about them. Do they have emotions? Families? Goals? How does this society function? Do users have special powers here? Can they even die? We know nothing about such things.

There’s are only two programs in this entire system worth more than one second of thought. There’s Michael Sheen’s fabulous gatekeeper character, Castor, and Olivia Wilde’s Quorra, who has a larger plot role unearthed later in the film. Yes, Tron himself is also back and is revealed in what’s supposed to be a plot twist, but it’s incredibly obvious when he shows up quite early in the film.

The main villain, the film boasts, is cinema’s first ever entirely digitally created actor. It’s a CGI version of young Jeff Bridges, but rather than just erase a few wrinkles, they’ve created his face entirely from scratch. It’s realistic about 10% of the time, but the other 90% it’s just plain terrifying, and the man doesn’t just rule the Grid, but also the sister kingdom of the Uncanny Valley as well. In the end, you want to see him die not because of his motives, but just so he stops making creepy facial expressions. It was a valiant effort, but the character is too unnerving to not be distracting.

Gahhh just stop looking at me!

As for the two main heroes? Their appearance is almost an afterthought. Newcomer Garrett Hedlund subscribes to the Sam Worthington “blank slate” school of acting, where a good looking guy is given the lead in a major movie despite being devoid of personality.

Bridges just looks amused at everything that’s going on around him, and it’s like Oscar caliber actor doesn’t really know how to act in the absurd film he now stars in, 28 years after he did so initially. Most of the time he reverts back to his Big Lebowski character, The Dude, ending every sentence with a “man” or a similarly laid back sentiment.

I actually shelled out for 3D this time around, as I thought it could be worth it for as visually impressive as this movie was supposed to be. The film tries to pull a Wizard of Oz style cut where the real world is 2D, and the Grid is 3D, but honestly, you’ll barely notice. I will say the 3D doesn’t harm the film, as has been the case in live-action movies previously (though this is really 95% CGI), but it certainly doesn’t add much either, and was in no way worth the extra $6.50 it tacked onto my ticket. I’m all for integrated depth of field 3D like this into movies, but not if it results in a permanent 50-100% ticket price hike.

Figures, the one time they show Olivia Wilde in 3D, it’s a PG movie.

The movie is fun at times, but it’s not technical enough to please the computer geeks who understand complex systems like the movie tries to portray, nor is it mainstream enough where it won’t weird the general public out with its futuristic craziness. Despite being PG, I can’t see a terribly large amount of families heading to see this. In fact, it was downright off-putting to see a bunch of G-rated Disney flicks previewed before this one, as the film was sold as a dark techno thriller in the months leading up to its release.

Tron Legacy just didn’t make an impression on me. It was fine, but despite its graphical advancements over its predecessor, it didn’t seem terribly groundbreaking in any way. With flat performances from its two leads, the story fails to take root, and all we have is a $200M laser light show.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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15 Comments

  1. It wasn’t as great as the first, which is a few years older than probably most of the people on this site, myself included. But it was still a fun movie.

    And the blonde siren was good lookin’ as hell.

  2. Not quite sure we saw the same movie here. While I agree the story wasn’t that great, I thought the Quorra and Zeus/Castor subplots were actually quite good.

    I would argue that this may have been the best performance of Michael Sheen’s still young career (which is by no means a small feat, he has already proven himself to be an award worthy actor). His David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust impersonation was not only brilliant, the ludicrousness of it actually felt like it belonged in the film (which is the one thing I was worried about after seeing him in the trailers).

    Another thing you missed is that they did reveal that programs show emotion, devotion, and, possibly, attracting. When Casteus pulls a Xeno Lovegood and calls CLU on Flynn, we see a program get derezzed and then moments later, an Asian program kneeling over where the program had been, crying like she had just lost her soulmate. I’ll refrain from mentioning Quorra here as you could possibly say that she isn’t a true program, as she was manifesting by the Grid itself as opposed to created. I will, however, mention Tron. He had obviously been reprogrammed by CLU to follow him without hesitation, but when he saw Flynn and heard him speak, he turns on CLU. That there tells me that the programs are more human than they let on.

    The effects were spectacular. I think my jaw was dropped for 90% of the movie. Not once did I feel like I was getting a headache from it all. The 3D was well executed as well. I think people are expecting way too much from 3D at this point, but I think they did it right. They added depth instead of making things pop out of the screen. I agree it isn’t worth $6.50 extra, but I would argue that no movie is worth $6.50 period (I paid $6 total for my ticket, $4 for the ticket with a $2 3D surcharge).

    The CG on CLU wasn’t as great as I had hoped for, but I think it really lended itself to being a creation of Flynn in his own vision – CLU was a perfect version of Flynn and the overly smooth CG seemed to lend itself to that (even if it was unintentional)

    Tron: Legacy was, to me at least, awe inspiring. As a designer and someone who thrives in creativity, I walked out of that film with an urge to create and actually put off my Christmas shopping a further 2 days in order to do that creating.

    You also made this review and mentioned Daft Punk only once and only mentioning their 10 seconds of screen time at the club scene. The score is neck-and-neck with Zimmer’s Inception and Reznor/Ross’s Social Network score for best original score and truly defines that film in the way that Shore’s music defines Middle Earth. Leaving it out of your review is simply not doing justice to the film.

    Oh, and we had Olivia Wilde in skin tight leather. That alone should have made the movie higher than 2.5 out of 5 stars.

    (Truly hope I didn’t sound like a complete dick in that comment, I have always had difficulty arguing without sounding like one. I don’t mean to be one, but I am horrible at politely wording things)

  3. @Josh

    You’re not a dick just because you disagree with me. I’ll give you that the Daft Punk soundtrack was excellent, though I heard most of it before the movie came out. Between all the posters, trailers and track drops, I felt like I’d seen this movie before it was even out, and I think that was part of the problem with it for me.

    I think they could have done a lot more exploring the humanity of the programs, rather than a few brief moments like you mention. And yes, Sheen was excellent, though best role of his career might be a stretch.

    And uh, where the hell are you paying $4 for a movie ticket? My student rate is $7.50 at my theater, but as there are no student discounts for 3D, my ticket was $14, almost 100% more than I would have paid otherwise.

  4. I give it 9/10
    I have to watch the original again, and Legacy again…

    “Between all the posters, trailers and track drops, I felt like Iā€™d seen this movie before it was even out, and I think that was part of the problem with it for me.”
    Totally

    Ze

  5. I really enjoyed the movie, but I think you’re right, and it suffered from a bit of Avatar syndrome: pretty to look at, but with a weak story.

    At the end of the day, I was really there for the special effects and to see Daft Punk’s soundtrack put to music. For people that, like me, were looking for that, the scene at Castor’s night club is the highlight of the film. And I also thought Olivia Wilde did a pretty good job in this film, even though I’m not sure it was the most demanding role ever.
    Also, I’m having a hard time remembering if Sam spoke for…the entire Grid part of the film. At some point, I forgot he was the main character. Funny how that happens sometime.

    Lastly, this movie gets a whole lot better when you realize it’s essentially The Matrix, except The Dude is The One.

  6. @Paul: Go see your movies at the first showing of the day (usually 10am by me). Not only is it substantially cheaper (usual price is $9.50, not $4), there is absolutely no one there. People ruin movies, so going to see Tron in a 400+ seat theater with less than 30 people is quite the luxury, especially when it’s actually cheaper than seeing it with 400+ people. Plus you avoid little kids (few parents want to get up that early to see a movie with their kids) and old people who can’t breathe right.

    I’ll be honest and say that if they charged $9.50 for morning tickets too, I’d still pay it. I’m one of those people who absolutely hate even the most minor annoyance during a movie, so the 10am show is just about the greatest thing in the world for me.

  7. @Josh: Agreed with your review 100%. I really enjoyed this movie. I would say that if you are going to see TRON Legacy please try and see it in IMAX. There were some 3D shots in the real world. Mostly while he was on his bike in the beginning. The soundtrack has been on repeat for about a week now. In the original TRON programs felt pain, were scared to join “the games”. TRON Legacy had this too with the very first programs you meet being scared of the Games. Sorry I want to get into spoilers so i’ll stop now. If you are a parent, for the love of films take your kids to this movie. I am 27 now but if I could see this movie when I was 10-14 in IMAX I would be blown away. The thing about making a movie of this scale (it will be played all over the world) is that the story has to be simple enough for foreign audiences to understand. Avatar had this problem too. But they need to do it to make back the money they spent on CGI. To me this movie destroys Avatar. I only seen Avatar once in theatres. I have seen TRON three times already. IMO.

  8. I was suitably impressed by the film. The hero was portrayed as capable and confident without being a douche, and Olivia Wilde was incomparably hot without being slutty or ditzy–those two things alone get it major cred in my book. The soundtrack was amazing, and the little nods that I didn’t initially pick up on added to the mix. For example, I originally missed that Cillian Murphy’s walk-on role is playing the son of the villain from the original film.

  9. @Yautja

    Agreed there. Making Olivia Wilde that hot without whoring her out was impressive.

    !!!SPOILER!!!!!

    The ending was a bit irriating. As I don’t really understand how pixel’s could be converted to flesh. Not really sure what Olivia Wildes body is made of and althought I am not exactly looking for realism in TRON. My brain hurts from trying to figure out any plausible explanation to how Olivia’s character (or any characters in the TRON universe) could enter the real world.

  10. @Matt Chi: If flesh can be converted to bytes, why can’t it be done the other way around other than the whole laws of mass (which are actually broken when they convert flesh to bytes, anyway)?

  11. Let me start out by saying in no way do I think Tron: Legacy was a “good” movie in the traditional sense of the word. It’s not gonna be up for any Oscars that don’t have to do with technology and I’m pretty sure at least 40% of the screenplay consisted of noting more than “SAM!!!!!!!!!!!!” Having said that though Tron was tremendously entertaining, and that was the point really, dont you think? It’s just supposed to be fun and look cool and that’s what it was. I was actually impressed that the plot was as deep as it was (not that it was deep but the fact that it involved more than just find The Dude and go home was something I didn’t see coming).

    Also there really isn’t a point in complaining about how the movie failed to go deeper with the way circuits and whatnot work. The original didn’t do this and in fact, the few times it did you just sort of sat there saying “well…thats not how computers work at all.” They stayed away from that this time using the foundation they already had from the first movie and just kind of went from there. Explaining circuitry would have been boring, kind of like an origin story from a superhero movie. I don’t wanna see spider man learn to use all his new powers, I just want to see him fight Venom. I also don’t really want to see someone program a computer, I just want to see a light cycle execute something other than a 90 degree turn and in this movie OMG THEY’RE DOING IT IN 3D!

    Also I’m pretty sure that Clu was trying to actually manifest himself as flesh in the real world. They said something about if it can go one way why not the other. Users definitely seem to have special abilities (or at least Bridges definitely does because he programmed the system) and they most certainly can die otherwise the whole thing would be kind of pointless (think of it like the matrix, which is a very similar plot actually, you die in here you die out there). Finally, if you go back and watch the original Tron, Jeff Bridge’s character, while still in the real world, actually does kind of act like the dude. The problem is he’s only in the real world for like…10 minutes so you don’t really notice it at first. Once he’s in the grid he’s really more concerned with OMG EVERYTHING IS TRYING TO KILL ME! so there isn’t a lot of time to act calm. After being trapped in his own grid for 20 years though it makes sense that he would revert back to his actual personality because he’s had some time to calm down.

    I actually agree with most of your review in all honesty. I just think you’re looking at the movie the wrong way. It’s just supposed to be fun and look cool with some homages to the original and it does those things really well. Also Olivia Wilde is just flat out sexy so that’s a pretty good distraction from the films shortcomings don’t ya think?

  12. I will never understand why people expect what they expect from movies. I go to the movies to ‘see’ cool shit. And that’s exactly what Tron: Legacy was. 2 hours of cool looking action. If you want an interesting/in-depth story read a book.

  13. It will never be considered for an oscar but damn if Tron Legacy wasn’t the most visually stunning and one of the most immersive films I have seen this year. 3D wise its up there with the best but not quite Toy Story 3 šŸ™‚

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