‘Tron:Legacy’ Review: Plug In and Play

Tron 2.0 from Walt Disney Pictures
Tron 2.0. Poster courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

The ‘80s were a rough decade for Disney. Animated box office bombs and the fall of Disney’s live action department were coupled with rising debts from their expanding park projects. In the midst of the Disney turmoil, an unlikely, geeky demographic got a treat for the ages: Tron. What was supposed to be a typical action developed into one of the best cult movies and this guy.

What audiences get in Tron: Legacy is not a sequel to the fun, quirky story of Kevin Flynn taking on corporate greed through the bit-world of a computer mainframe. Instead, Legacy is the story of Flynn’s grown son, Sam, reconnecting with his long-lost father while staving off possible programmable world domination. Does not compute? Apparently, that is what the majority of the visually striking action sequences are for. Otherwise this kiddie flick would go off the deep end much too quickly and have to be rebooted yet again.

A lot of what made the first Tron so endearing was that it created an entirely new frontier of the computer world, long before the Matrix was a twinkle in the eyes of the Wachowski brothers. Tron’s mainframe was populated with quirky characters like RAM and Bit, and though they relied a bit too heavily on synth music and vehicles that move in a straight line, the leading characters of the programs and the users are organic and real enough to make audiences care if they got deleted. Although it takes place in a black and blue world called “the grid,” it is filled with the colors of light cycles, bright liquid-cooling streams, and programs. There’s faith in the cold calculating world dominated by a Soviet-esque Master Computer, surrounded by red tones and red soldiers. There’s even a shaman/priest figure who can communicate with the users on the other side.

The original Tron. Poster courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

But much of what made the first Tron so memorable is scaled back or erased altogether in Legacy. Fighting “for the user,” a rallying cry of the first movie, is only heard once towards the ending of Tron: Legacy. It is a shame that Legacy leaves so many memories of its predecessor behind in fragments.

Of course, the best part for fans of the original are the upgrades made to “The Grid,” the computer world in the Tron franchise. Light cycles are no longer a throwback to the 8-bit game “Snake,” but rapid racing machines, driving in arenas complete with multiple layers of road designed to run the riders into the crisp, colored light shows that are left from all tire screeching. The dark, gloomy world is a tad reminiscent of Blade Runner stuck in a hard drive, complete with evil clones, savior “beings,” corruption, greed, and bad programming. But what is the purpose of a scene where programs laser off Sam’s clothes? Are producers trying to squeeze sexual tension where there shouldn’t be any? Remember that this is the cold, calculating world of the grid. The original Tron actually put a tunic on Jeff Bridge’s outfit in order to hide the fact that the outfit was inappropriately tight for a kid’s flick – you figure out what that means in Disney terminology. It’s possible to say that all fans are left with in Legacy is a lot of pretty-looking, shiny things.

Part of the reason for the reboot, rather than a straight-to-DVD sequel, is that it’s been almost thirty years since the first Tron. Jeff Bridges is getting old, man, and it shows when his digital self is featured prominently next to his creator. However, Bridges puts in a stellar performance that makes look-alike gag work as well as it does. Despite all the fancy technology and mention of cycles as measurement of time this is a make believe movie, just like any other. Just don’t try and figure out how Kevin Flynn keeps ending up in the Tron world like those meddling kids keep ending up in Narnia.

Oh well, perhaps the legacy of this new Tron will be the best melding of Disney and House music thought possible.

Long story short on family drama, inter-computer reality, and what have you, is that this movie is still exciting to watch. A true Tron 2 it is not, but if you can find it in your fanboy heart to embrace the reincarnation, perhaps you too will have fun. B-

About Monica Castillo

Monica Castillo (CAS '11) is a Film writer for the Quad. Drawn into the world of film studies accidentally, she's continued on writing, writing, and writing about film since. She also co-writes on another blog, http://beyondthebacklot.wordpress.com/, which is about even geekier film stuff. If you have the time, she would love to watch a movie with you.

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