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TRON: Legacy [Review]

Overall Feeling: 

TRON: Legacy may be a film that doesn’t offer an immense amount of character or cutting edge story elements, but as a whole the film is one of the most entertaining things I’ve seen this year and it’s a complete orgy to the eyes from a visual perspective. The film may not have that same amount of computer references as the original film had, but this is still a TRON movie despite all the changes that have been made. With action that is perfectly directed and entertaining to watch, a nice cast that brings some depth and likeability to their characters and a plot that offers more than a simple tale of a guy being stuck inside a computer, TRON: Legacy has lived up to the hype and will surely please the fans of the franchise.

The Pros: 

Director Joe Kosinski has created a world that perfectly encapsulates the core sensibilities of the old TRON while taking it to the next level. Visually, the movie is an absolute gem as the special effects are stellar and the design of the world is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde and of course Jeff Bridges all turn in really good performances that help to establish a connection to the audience – or at least to me. Daft Punk’s score is a nice combination of buttery beats and orchestral arrangements that soothe the soul. There are a ton of callbacks to the original TRON including a potential set-up to a TRON: Legacy sequel.

The Cons: 

Not enough scenes with TRON. While he may have a strong presence in the film, I would've liked to see more of Clu in action. The lack of obvious tech lingo being thrown around may disappoint the hardcore fans of the franchise.

ShogunGamer.com Rating : 
9

Upon first seeing TRON as a kid in 1993 I really didn’t know what to expect from the film. Having missed out on the first few minutes but still knowing the basic jest of the plot (dude gets sucked into a computer world), my young mind was trying to process what was going on along with figuring out if the film was as dire as some had made it out to be.  Even at a young age, I knew that TRON had a reputation for being “silly” or “bombing” at the box office, but being a geek I felt compelled to watch it. Once TRON had defeated the evil Master Control Program and the credits rolled, my mind was absolutely blown. Combining my two loves (video games and crazy sci-fi stuff) TRON immediately resonated with me, especially during a time in which the TV show ReBoot was on the air. And now here we are, over fifteen years since I first saw TRON and over twenty-five years since the film was originally released and the much anticipated sequel TRON: Legacy is being bestowed upon us. But is TRON: Legacy a victim of a company trying to cash-in on a cult franchise and the ever growing technology craze, or do we have the film that so many of us have been patiently waiting for?

Amongst the hardcore TRON fans out there, some had wondered if TRON: Legacy would sell-out in a way as far as being a film from a major corporation who wants to make a profit.  Even though Disney originally released TRON in 1982, the film was almost a grassroots endeavor that sadly didn’t pay off as much as Disney had hoped it would – thus the franchise was cast into the realm of cult hit obscurity for a good chunk of time.  But despite the various toys, video games, tie-in products and design changes, TRON: Legacy is indeed a TRON movie through and through as it’s a captivating combination of visuals and action that when put together result in one of the most dazzling film experiences I’ve seen this year.

At this point everyone should know the plot of TRON: Legacy since we’ve been graced with countless trailers and I’ve covered it extensively on Shogun Gamer. But if you’ve been in a media blackout, the plot follows Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), the son of legendary programmer and design guru Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who has mysteriously been missing since 1989.  Living under the shadow of his father, Sam finally finds himself on the right path of being reunited with his dad as he finds himself transported to The Grid, the computer world his father created in which Programs are living things and if you die it’s literally game over.  The key reason that the Grid, a place that was once built on the promise of peace and growth, is so dangerous is because Kevin’s creation Clu, has usurped his master and taken control over the system in an attempt to derezz all imperfection and fulfill his function of creating the perfect system.

Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn.

When the original TRON film was released the plot kind of fell flat for people for a couple different reasons. Some people just couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on, others found it to be too hokey, and others criticized it for just being poorly written. Is TRON: Legacy a masterpiece of writing having two veterans from the TV show Lost onboard? To be honest, it isn’t.  The film doesn’t provide an overly deep and complicated story that is on par with something that would be nominated for an Academy Award. But with that being said, the writing and plot for the film, which actually has a few surprises, isn’t necessarily flat nor does it have segments that immediately made me groan due to long sessions of exposition being doled out. With TRON: Legacy you need to go into the movie expecting a very simple plot and narrative and that’s it. Anything else should be tossed out the window otherwise you’ll be disappointed or maybe you’re just seeing the wrong movie.  Some people have already harped on TRON: Legacy for its “lack” of character building, comedy and an emotional connection to its characters.  Could the characters be beefed up a little bit more? Perhaps, but what’s offered in the film does a solid job of giving enough backstory, obvious exposition or subtle hints on the characters which makes it clear what their motivations are and what they’re like as Programs.  The only thing I would’ve wanted out of the film were more scenes featuring Clu and TRON, yes he’s in the movie and he’s extremely bad-ass.

In terms of expanding upon the core themes of the original film, combining that with a plot of being reunited with a love one and redeeming your wrongs, the film is pretty damn good.  Despite not having his father around and being a bit of a reckless dude, Sam Flynn doesn’t come across as an annoying brat or someone with an immense chip on his shoulder.  Right from the moment we see him do a quick break-in mission early on in the film, he’s an incredibly likeable character and Garrett Hedlund does a good job of conveying the constant wonderment Sam has as he’s exploring the Grid without coming across too much as an “Aw-shucks where am I” type stereotype.  Of course the crux of the film is the relationship between Sam and Kevin, who having spent over 1000 years in the Grid is an aged soul who is weary yet still has a bit of optimism left. Bridges performance as Kevin is definitely one of an old soul, but he still has the almost kid like sensibility that Kevin had in the original TRON, and yes he does say dude in the film.  There’s a very good rapport between Garret Hedlund and Jeff Bridges and I really loved the scenes where they were able to spend some father & son time before getting back into action and avoiding the minions of Clu.

Jeff Bridges as Clu.

Speaking of Clu, there’s been a lot of talk about the character since he’s also played by Jeff Bridges. With Clu being created by Kevin Flynn, thus being an avatar of sorts, Clu looks like his creator when he was a young man.  Using the wonder of special effects a digital version of a young Jeff Bridges’ face was mapped over an actor playing the body of Clu, but as far as the voice and core facial animations are concerned that’s all Jeff Bridges. Now, after some snippets of Clu were revealed in the previous trailers for the film, some people were a bit iffy on how it looked and if it would ruin the film.  From a technical perspective, the execution of Clu is pretty spot-on as it does indeed look like Jeff Bridges and there aren’t any awkward motion issues where the movement of his face looks off from the rest of his body. However, the quality of Clu’s face isn’t on such a level where it’s 100% believable – at least from the perspective of people doubting whether it’s CG or make-up.  There are definitely moments when Clu shines, but there are also a few shots in the film where he has a synthetic look to him but that didn’t break the immersion of the film to me since we have Jeff Bridges playing a bad guy which is an awesome thing to see.  Clu may be a mirror of his creator in many ways, but Clu is just a maniacal bastard and Bridges puts the perfect amount of menace in Clu’s performance without being too over-the-top. In fact, Bridges performance as Clu is sometimes rather subtle in how menacing it can be as he’s not boasting of his plans or whipping his Identity Disc around like a cliché villain.

Olivia Wilde also puts in a nice performance as Quorra, a Grid warrior and loyal confidant of Kevin Flynn.  Olivia’s presence onscreen is somewhat infectious because despite her fierce battle skills, Quorra somewhat has the attitude of a teenager, or at least in respects to the things Kevin has taught her and the arrival of Sam, who is the only other User on the Grid. It would’ve been nice to see more of Quorra’s relationship with Kevin, but she’s definitely a character that I think TRON fans will love as she’s really likeable and knows how to handle herself in battle.  The supporting cast for the film is a bit small but definitely deserves a few mentions.  Well known character actor Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon, Underworld) pops up as Castor, a club owner in the world who is literally David Bowie from the late 1970s/early 1980s in complete glam rock mode taken to the next level.  Sheen’s appearance as Castor is limited to just a few scenes, but its characters like this that really add a lot of dimension to the world of TRON.  While we may not have scenes in which Programs say what their functions are, like being an actuarial program for an insurance company, the Grid is a complete different system that indeed is full of life and Programs who are beyond imagination.  I really liked Sheen’s performance as Castor, as it happens during one of the best parts of the film, and while his time may be limited, it’s definitely memorable.

TRON has always been known for its dazzling visuals and at times I find it hard to describe what’s presented to us in TRON: Legacy.  Things may be darker and have more influences of the real world (clouds, rain, and water) but the Grid still has that ascetic that looks like it’s a computer in the near future that just oozes style.  The overall design of the Grid may have been simplified compared to the very circuit based design of the original film, but it’s still appealing and is often breathtaking. Director Joe Kosinski may be a first time director, but the way he frames his shots and directs the action certainly isn’t like that of someone new to directing multi-million dollar films. While Kosinski may not do anything too out of the ordinary as far as what camera angles he uses or creating a trademark technique for himself, he manages to capture scenes that can immediately be saved and looked at as a piece of art.  That’s not to say that the movie is entirely vapid or is solely intent on giving folks nothing but cool visuals, but Kosinski clearly has an eye for capturing images.  A perfect example of this is when Kosinski uses slow-motion for certain shots.  I think as movie-goers we’re a bit tired of seeing slow-motion at times, but Kosinski uses it sparingly for scenes that deserve it or when you as the viewer would want it to be used, like when Sam hops aboard his Light Cycle for the first time or we see a Program get Derezzed and shatter into a million pieces.

Quorra (Olivia Wilde) and Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund)

While it may be doled out in nice increments across the film, the action is something that I think no one should have an issue with it as it’s just stylish and badass.  I was a bit surprised at how fast we’re thrown into the world of TRON and the Grid Games, as upon entering the Grid Sam is already suited up in his combat suit and is in Disc Wars, which is then followed up by a Light Cycle action scene where I won’t be ashamed to admit that I had goose bumps while watching since it offers everything we could’ve possibly imagined or wanted out of a Light Cycle scene.  When an action scene came up in the film it felt rather natural instead of feeling like it’s the obligatory action scene that’s required every 10 minutes. In fact, once Sam gets reunited with his father there’s a good chunk of time that the movie somewhat goes into a mellow mode which of course is ramped up in the last half which has enough action and visual delights that I had a huge grin on my face for at least twenty minutes.

And on top of the existing layers of visual and action goodness lies an original score by Daft Punk which is something that will be playing on the MP3 players of people for a long time.  There are parts of Daft Punk’s score which do harken back to the DP sound we all know, with a heavy emphasis on bass beats and synth compositions that reminded me of Vangelis, but there’s also a side to the score which shows that Daft Punk can be “serious.” By that I’m referring to the several tracks that purely feature an orchestral score, with only minimal uses of buttery beats.  These orchestral segments aren’t as jarring as you may think compared to the more electronic tracks, but they really work well in the scenes that they’re utilized like when Kevin tells Sam how Clu took control over the Grid.  Daft Punk fans should be pleased with what the soundtrack offers and film score buffs should appreciate Daft Punk’s originality and nice usage of electronic and orchestral elements.

Just like its creator Kevin Flynn says, “The Grid is a place of infinite possibility, more beautiful than I ever dreamed and more dangerous than I ever imagined”, TRON: Legacy is a visually arresting film that constantly gives viewers an array of visuals that are breathtaking and action that is exciting and genuinely has a sense of danger to it.  There are moments when the film may either get too bogged down in backstory or general exposition for some people out there, but TRON: Legacy is far from being a boring film that is all flash and no substance.  The story offered to us may not be pure AAA material, but it’s far from being the schlock doled out in other action films nor does it have a feeling of Disney trying to play it safe.  Some hardcore fans may be a bit disappointed that the film doesn’t heavily push the computer nature of the Grid in constant computer references or lingo, but if you’re like me and loved the original film or cool sci-fi movies in general, then you’re going to immediately want to hop back on the Grid after you finish watching TRON: Legacy.