By Mike Brendan
Before I begin reviewing this film, I need to step back in time a bit. I was eight years old when TRON came out. Long story short, it blew me away, and I count it as a major influence that led me to a career in IT. Looking back, I see that it’s a good film — and a fun film — but not a great one. It’s got some bumps in the plot, a bit of a pacing problem, but this was a new frontier for animation. It was like music videos back in that day — no one really knew how this sort of thing was done, but Disney went ahead and gave it a shot. While it wasn’t a huge success in the box office, it became a cult classic among geeks.
Fast forward 28 years, and now we have the sequel. In a day where sequels to films seem to be coming out every other year, I’m glad that it’s taken this long to explore a continuation to TRON. It’s not some grand design of Disney, sure, but the times and the technology have changed. With Generation Y growing up with Twitter and Facebook, one wonders how they would see the Grid, given that they access a form of it with their own User Power on a daily basis.
Let’s start with the good. Part of that comes from what I expected of the film, based on the trailers on Apple’s Trailer Site:
* Computer Genius Dad disappears on Secret Project, leaving Prodigal Son behind.
* Son grows up to be a thrill seeking misfit, refusing to take over his father’s company because of the Dad-shaped hole in his heart.
* Son gets tip on Dad’s whereabouts, goes to investigate and finds Secret Lab.
* Son plays with Tech in Secret Lab, gets zapped into System.
* Son is forced to play gladiatorial games, meets Evil Program in Charge.
* Son escapes Game Grid with the help of a cute Girl Program, finds Dad.
* Dad fills Son in on Evil Program in Charge, suggests they Do Nothing.
* Son decides Do Something, Dad and Girl Program follow.
* Dad, Son and Girl Program try to stop Evil Program in Charge before he can beam his forces out of the System and into the Real World.
And you know what? That’s exactly what I got and I’m fine with that. This is a PG movie about a son looking for his father. I’m not expecting deep transhuman or cyberpunk exploration here. Yeah, the film will touch on those tropes a bit — so did the first one — and it raises some nifty questions for us savvy adults in the process. For something that’s meant to be family entertainment, that’s okay.
The visuals were excellent and a lot smoother, of course that goes without saying. What I liked about this is that they did a lot more set work than the original — or at least that’s the feel. Flynn’s residence, the End of Line Club and many other locations have a proper physical sense to them. The movie has enough fancy visuals to portray the Virtual world without being overwhelming. It’s a step up from the original.
Combat scenes, whether in the Games or otherwise, were also done well — a little quick on the cuts in some cases, but that’s something I’ll always quibble about. One interesting thing to note is that while Kevin Flynn avoids fighting, his son Sam is more than willing to spill the bytes of his enemies. It’s a great way of showing how the two characters regard the Grid and its inhabitants, and as such how two different generations view technology (not to mention games).
One problem I had with the film were the two “reveals” surrounding Quorra and CLU. Quorra’s reveal was unnecessary (as if to say OMG! Sam was rescued by a cute girl!), and CLU’s reveal felt like the film was talking down to the viewer. The one trailer for the film spoils this surprise, but even without that, having the Evil Program in Charge wearing a full opaque helmet while lounging in his suite is still something of a give-away. It can pull a viewer out the story as much as an info dump, because here we’re seeing something is being withheld from the viewer for no other reason than to withhold info from the viewer. Why the director couldn’t just do that bit with clever camera work is beyond me.
Another problem I had was with Rinzler, the atavistic combat program under CLU’s command. With all his growling and helmet breath, it feels like Rinzler went to the Darth Vader School of Villainry but dropped out before he could earn his flowing black cape. If you’ve seen the first movie, and have an eye for significant details, you’re going to know who Rinzler is… so why is he never unmasked? I can think of a few reasons for this, and none of them are story related, which is a shame, because that would have been a good reveal, even if I did figure it out ahead of time. Rinzler’s actions in the last act of the film come so far out of left field, it made me do a double take. It would have been nice to see some lead up before then, but apparently that wasn’t in the script.
The plot itself has several parallels to the original film, so if you’ve seen TRON, you have a general idea of where the film may be headed at some points. That’s not so much a negative, but it does lend itself to some predictability if you watch for that sort of thing.
Make no mistake, TRON: Legacy is a fun film to be seen in the theater with extra buttery popcorn. Is it worth seeing in 3D? Yes. IMAX 3D? Maybe not so much… i don’t know if the film reached that potential, but this is the first film I’ve seen in that format so I don’t have a measure of quality here. Having seen the original is irrelevant — us grognards will relish in the nostalgia of the Grid and our glory days in the arcades, while newcomers will see the wonders of a hidden world.
Mike Brendan is a proud graduate of the Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill University. When not writing SF/F/H to fund his conquest of the universe, he’s busy negotiating terms of surrender to his kitten, Zaphod.