A little while ago I wrote that Tron Legacy was a bit of a disappointment, and this is true. But I caught it on TV last night, and found that I was pleasantly surprised on my first re-watching. Maybe it was just going into it having diminished expectation. Or having distanced myself from the initial hype. Or just having to come to terms with the fact that this wasn’t the movie that was going to convince everyone what was so awesome about Tron in the first place. (Actually, this movie is likely to do just the opposite. Fans of the original Tron may find elements to be let down by the sequel, while new viewers may tune into the original film and find it’s look cheesy and dated. Kind of like discovering classic Doctor Who after watching David Tennant for years.) Either way, I enjoyed it more. The same thing also happened with Cowboys & Aliens–which, now that I think of it, also featured Olivia Wilde as the third billed actor. Weird.
Anyway, to start with the obvious, this movie has great special effects. I always enjoyed that. But I don’t really mean just the special effects, but rather the overall design. All the stuff, inside the computer, in the system, looks great. And today’s special effects help the film to render that design beautifully. And if I remember properly, they looked good in 3D as well, as I first saw the movie in the cinema. I haven’t actually seen that many movies in modern 3D, but this is one where the effect (used in the computer world, but not in the real world) felt the most justified.
A lot has been said negatively about the film’s performances and character development. I think a lot of this is over the top. It’s not that we’re seeing the cinematic heights of characterization or anything, but Garrett Hedlund’s Sam and Olivia Wilde’s Quorra are certainly par for the course for a mainstream action / science fiction film, and help to carry us through the film’s set pieces. I like the innocence of their relationship. And I like the fact that these guys play their roles like they are in a serious movie, keeping the self-aware smirking that could have colored their roles to a minimum.
Turning Kevin Flynn into a detached meditative guru wouldn’t have been my first choice, but it is justifiable when you consider the guy has been lost in this system for something like a thousand years. Criticism that he’s channeling the Dude from The Big Lebowski I think are also unjustified. I also appreciate watching Flynn reconnect with life through his son, and the way he takes responsibility for Clu’s actions. Bridges also does a find job playing Clu, and making him a very different character, thanks to more than just the special effects. There’s an attempt at a nice parallel between the two regarding their obsessions about finding “our destiny” in each other’s world.
The story, again, is fine. The plot is clear and well motivated. I was originally a bit confused by the significance of these ISO’s that Flynn is so excited about, but on re-viewing I can accept the fact that yes, somehow they could change the face of medicine and the human condition. The story’s acknowledgement that perfection is perhaps unattainable, and yet present in life and relationships, as well as Clu’s inability to understand this, is a nice one.
I think the only sequence that I found to be truly annoying was all the business with Zuse and the “End of the Line” club. Michael Sheen’s performance is fine for what it is, but what it is is a bit silly, and the character just opens the door for a lot of cliches that don’t actually advance the plot at all (well, I guess Clu had to get Flynn’s disk somehow). And when the DJ’s keep playing dance music as Clu’s red guard’s break in and start de-rezzing programs all over the place, than we’ve really leveled up the absurdity. To me, this is the only part of the movie that feels like it’s beholden to The Matrix franchise, rather than just telling it to stick it in its ear about what a virtual computer society could really look like.
My other big disappointment with Tron Legacy on first viewing was what I call the dramatic non-reveal of Tron. One of the twists of the film is the revelation that Darth Maul, er, I mean, Rinzler, is really a re-purposed Tron. I had this unfortunately spoiled for me before I saw the movie, but that wouldn’t have mattered if the reveal had been cool. After Flynn realizes the sad truth, I kept waiting for the moment when this emotional situation would really pay off. And it does, not in a fully satisfying way. Tron is chasing Flynn, and suddenly begins to remember. Then he says what should have been the coolest line in the movie before crashing his ship into Clu’s. Afterwards, Clu grabs his spare airplane stick and chucks Tron into the virtual water. All of this with Tron never taking his mask off! Why miss out on this obvious opportunity?
Here’s how I imagine it, in my “this would have been so much better” imagination (I’ve actually done with this with the entirety of the Green Lantern movie, which maybe I’ll share someday): Rinzler is pursuing Flynn and the others in their ships. He catches up to them, and jumps right onto their ship, punching holes in the structure and trying to get to them through the window (after all, the whole goal is getting Flynn’s disk, so you wouldn’t want to blow it up or anything). He and Flynn come face to face, and Flynn grabs him, using his special User powers to begin to fry up Rinzler’s reprogramming. Rinzler retreats, confused, remembering. He sees Clu closing in on Flynn, and suddenly, re-energized flies to him and attacks him, saving Flynn. Tron and Clu duke it out in the sky, perhaps as they fall. Clu shouts at him to “Obey me!” In the fight, Tron’s mask is ripped off, and Bruce Boxleitner’s steely, de-aged gaze is revealed as he replies, I fight for the users! Tron fans cheer. They fight for a bit, and the battle ends the same way that it does in the movie, with Clu getting Tron’s plane while Tron falls in the water. The movie continues as scheduled. And this five minutes of adjusted action satisfies me and whole lot of other people who were looking for that one awesome moment to remember.
Now, in the scene as it is, we do get that exciting image Tron’s lights changing color as he sinks into the water. That’s pretty cool. With prospects for another Tron film being reasonably promising, and Boxleitner’s evident continued involvement, maybe we’ll still eventually get our big payoff.
And I’m not trying to defend Tron Legacy as a great movie, but it’s gotten such a negative rap from many, including at times by me, that I find most of my thoughts are around why it isn’t as bad as all of that. As a big Tron fan, I certainly didn’t think the movie killed the potential franchise. The few episodes I saw of Tron Uprising confirmed that for me. I also just found out that there is a ten minute short film called Tron The Next Day that has Bruce Boxleitner, Dan Shor, and a bit of Jeff Bridges and Garrett Hedlund in it that I’m going to check out as soon as I can. And as I said, things seem hopeful Tron 3, I’m still cautiously optimistic for the future.