To say TRON: LEGACY is a visual eyefuck of a movie that contains one of the absolute best film soundtracks in years is to state the retardedly obvious. Visually and musically, TRON: LEGACY is every bit as ambitious and epic as it promised to be back in 2008 when director Joseph Kosinski premiered a teaser trailer at the San Diego Comic-Con. Upon first seeing an awesomely digitized Walt Disney castle logo layered over with the sounds of Daft Punk at the beginning of the film, you know you’re in for a visual and musical treat. However, I don’t think I need to spend much time defending the look and music of TRON: LEGACY because even the harshest critics of this film will agree that those aspects of the film are impressive. Where I feel I need to expend most of my time and energy defending is what almost everyone has attacked almost derisively: the film’s script and the actor’s performances. Now I don’t mean to imply that TRON: LEGACY is a perfect movie, which it isn’t, but neither is it outweighed by its faults. As an end product, TRON: LEGACY is an entertaining popcorn film that blows away almost everything Hollywood released this past summer in the way of summer entertainment.

Many of you have probably never seen the original TRON, which was released in 1982. That film had been a commercial failure upon its theatrical release, but it soon gained a big cult following among tech nerds and sci-fi and comic book geeks. Despite what the fans of the original will tell you, the only reason TRON regained popularity was because of its visual look and the cool arcade game it inspired. In all other respects, the film is just your standard action-adventure 80’s movie. The film starred Jeff Bridges, who played Kevin Flynn, a hacker (and owner of an arcade called ‘Flynn’s Arcade’) who hacks into the systems of a corporation he once worked for called ENCOM. Flynn enters the system in order to prove that his software code was stolen by a co-worker named Ed Dillinger. Dillinger had pirated Flynn’s software code and presented it as his own, which caused him to move up through the company’s corporate ranks. However, in his attempts to hack into ENCOM’s systems, Flynn ends up being transported into ENCOM’s digital world. Inside this world, Flynn meets Tron (Bruce Boxleitner), an ENCOM employee and former colleague of Flynn. The two team up and together defeat Dillinger and his Master Control Program (MCP), which is an evil artificial intelligence that controlled ENCOM’s systems.

Ok, so that’s the story to the first TRON film. TRON: LEGACY takes place 20 years after Kevin Flynn mysteriously disappeared in 1989. After the events in the first film, Flynn became the CEO of ENCOM and had a son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund). On the night before he disappears, Flynn promises Sam that he will finally show him ‘The Grid,’ which refers to the digital world that Flynn wrested control from the evil MCP and Dillinger in the first film. Sam has been haunted by his father’s disappearance and has taken an anarchist attitude toward ENCOM (even though Sam is the largest shareholder in the company). He breaks into ENCOM’s headquarters and leaks the latest operating system the company is about to launch to the public while also sabotaging the launch with a video of his pet dog. One of Flynn’s old friends (also played by Bruce Boxleitner) and a member of the ENCOM board, Alan Bradley, discovers that Sam was behind the sabotage. He finds Sam and informs him that he received a page from Flynn the night before and the page came from Flynn’s Arcade, which has been shut down and abandoned for years. Sam decides to investigate this and visits the arcade. There, he finds the portal to The Grid and is transported to it. Inside The Grid, Sam embarks upon finding his father, during the course of which he finds out that The Grid is being run by an evil Flynn.

Its pretty clear by the end of the movie that the director has set the stage for a sequel. The story contains a resolution, but it also leaves open some major loose threads for a future film. The plot is essentially the same as the one in the first film in that yet again we have a protagonist who finds himself in a strange world being controlled by a dictator and he has to ultimately find his way back to the portal to return home. Like the MCP in TRON, evil Flynn also harbors grand ambitions. In TRON, the MCP was attempting to take over the Pentagon computers. In TRON: LEGACY, we find evil Flynn preparing an army of soldiers to portal up to the normal world and take it over in order to ‘perfect’ it. Critics have lambasted the film’s plot as being weak and if that’s how you felt about the original film’s plot, then you’ll feel the same about the sequel’s story. For me, however, I don’t normally expect a complex storyline from an action-adventure movie. Every once in awhile you’ll see a film that breaks this trend and offers up a wholly unique and intricate plot (i.e. THE MATRIX), but on the whole, the majority of action-adventure films, good and bad, have pretty simple and straightforward plotlines (see RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, DIE HARD, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, any BATMAN movie, and even STAR WARS). What makes a particular film stand out as being great is in the story’s execution. What I mean by this is how well developed are the characters? How is the story paced? How are the conflicts presented? Most importantly, how is the story told?

I believe the first TRON relied much more on the visuals to sell the story than the sequel does, despite the fact that the visuals in TRON: LEGACY is the biggest attraction for audiences and the biggest selling point for Disney. This time, Kosinski takes the plot from the first movie and fleshes it out into a grander, more epic narrative. The stakes presented by the antagonist are much higher because now evil Flynn plans on entering the normal world and physically taking it over. The relationships are more complex and interesting as you have the son’s reunion with his long-lost father, the father’s struggle with his own creation, and the father’s surrogate relationship with Quorra (Olivia Wilde). In a recent conversation with a friend, we were discussing how cool it would be to have more films about people who have a vision of creating a utopia and they set out to create one against seemingly insurmountable odds (i.e. the vastly underrated THE MOSQUITO COAST). TRON: LEGACY contains such a story with Flynn, after the events of the original movie, attempting to create his perfect world in the digital realm. This presents yet another conflict in the story between Flynn’s recognition that perfection is not possible versus evil Flynn’s continued desire to achieve perfection.

Of course, TRON: LEGACY is not without its narrative flaws. For one, the pacing of the 2nd Act slows to a snail’s pace and not in a good way either. The characters spend too much time in exposition explaining the backstory between the first and second movies. Knowing what happened between the two movies isn’t a bad idea and its somewhat necessary, but I would have liked to have seen it done in a manner that didn’t require flashbacks and characters sitting in a living room talking it out. I’ve brought this example up before as a good way to give a backstory, but Peter Jackson did a masterful job in providing his audience with the background to his story in the very beginning to THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. The same could have been done in TRON: LEGACY and it may even have been more appropriate here given how 28 years have passed since the release of the first film. Another issue I had with the story was evil Flynn’s plan to enter the real world and ‘perfect’ it. I liked giving evil Flynn a plan as grand as taking over the world, but it should have been fleshed out more. What the hell does it mean to perfect the real world? How would Flynn and his thousand man army go about accomplishing this?

Turning now to the critics’ complaints that the acting is horrible, although I didn’t find the performances to be on the level of the recently watched THE KING’S SPEECH and BLACK SWAN, who the fuck would go into a movie like TRON: LEGACY expecting this anyway? Any transgressions committed through the actor’s performances are better blamed on the script than on the actors. The dialogue is certainly stiff, but its sufficiently serviceable to get the story across. It lacks depth and originality for the most part, but I didn’t find that too bothersome, especially when compared to the shit George Lucas is famous for putting into his characters’ mouths in his STAR WARS films. But its clear TRON: LEGACY is less concerned about dialogue-crafting than with providing a visually appealing action movie.

Garrett Hedlund has been mostly singled out by the critics as being especially bad. Given his characters’ backstory, I actually found his delivery to be fine. Again, I wasn’t expecting Tennessee Williams, but no one should be expecting that anyway. Sam Flynn is an adventurous, thrill-seeking young man who finds himself in a totally computerized world that for a hacker/computer geek like himself, must have been Disneyland and Nirvana combined. Add to that the fact that he knows he’s just entered the fabled Grid that his father had promised to take him to a long time ago, the character’s overexuberance over his surroundings works within the story. Watching Hedlund, I was reminded of Hayden Christensen from the STAR WARS prequels and how truly bad he was in delivering his lines. This is nowhere the case with TRON: LEGACY and any critic who thinks Hedlund is as bad as Christensen is delusional.

As for Jeff Bridges, he has the dual task of playing the good/older and bad/younger version of himself. In playing the older (non-digitized) Flynn, Bridges brings a Zenlike-guru sensibility to the character. His older version reminded me of his Dude character from THE BIG LEBOWSKI, which is a predictable evolution for Flynn considering he’s been stuck and exiled within The Grid since 1989. As the creator of The Grid, Flynn’s transformation into a spiritual figure is fitting. More will probably be said about evil Flynn mostly because of the fact that this is a digitally rendered version of a young Jeff Bridges. The quality of the performance is much less dependent on Jeff Bridges than on the digital animators responsible for rendering the character. Although the technology behind motion capture digital humans has improved since POLAR EXPRESS, the same problems that plagued a digital Tom Hanks continue to plague a digital Jeff Bridges. I think in about 10 years, we will finally reach a point where a digitally rendered human being will be almost indistinguishable from the real thing. However, the young Jeff Bridges works fine in TRON: LEGACY, especially considering that the character exists within a digital world so you are little less distracted by the flaws in the technology.

On a final note about the characters in TRON: LEGACY, by far the best character in the movie is the one played by Michael Sheen. The character is named Castor/Zuse, who is a flamboyant club owner who apparently has valuable information for Sam Flynn on how to reach the portal back home. Sheen completely hams up his performance and does a splendid job doing so. There isn’t a single line that comes out of his mouth that isn’t relished and played up. The character reminded me of a gayer version of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the precious little screen time we get from him will make you wish we got to see more of him.

In the end, TRON: LEGACY is a triumph of escapist popcorn fantasy and will disappoint only the most jaded of fans. I surely could have done without the massive barrage of marketing blitz unleashed by Disney’s PR. However, I suppose that may have been recognition by the Mouse House that this expensive venture would take a lot of marketing to get everyone to see this on opening weekend. Regardless, at the very least, TRON: LEGACY is an awe-inspiring spectacle of VFX magic (the first time you see the Tron ships on the giant-ass IMAX screen is pretty fucking cool). Complementing this is one of the best soundtracks I have heard in many years. Daft Punk provides a perfect blend of contemporary techno-pop that heightens the scope and tension of the movie. Ultimately, TRON: LEGACY is a worthy sequel, even with all of its warts and imperfections. Is there more style than substance? Yes, but I for one could care less and enjoyed the film for what it was.

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