”It’s biodigital jazz, man”. That line, delivered by his Dudeness, Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn, pretty much sums up Tron: Legacy. Just like jazz, it’s an experience overall yet consists of brilliant musicians, or areas of production in this analogy, even though you might not appreciate them all and some are better than the others. Tron is superb on many frontiers, yet still in a way seems lacking, like when listening to jazz and you don’t really know what’s going on. I’ll try and walk you through some of it to make a bit sense of the movie
Tron: Legacy is in theory a sequel to Tron from 1982, but in essence it could as well be a reboot of the series, especially with a looming sequel. The cyperspace, or Grid as they call it, of the original Tron is gone, as the ones who’ve seen it would know, and the Grid seen in Tron: Legacy is a new one created by Kevin Flynn, an ex-hacker turned CEO of Encom, a huge software company (think Microsoft or Apple). What is a bit misleading about the title is the nigh-complete absence of the titular character Tron (his story arch is definitely mishandled and left to hang to dry, possibly to make you crave a sequel), a programme created by Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) in his own likeness, to protect users like him and Kevin. Instead, we have the Tron city on the grid, which is the centre of the Grid and the throne from which Clu, a security programme turned dictator of Tron created by Kevin Flynn, rules the Grid. In between the events of the original Tron and Legacy, Clu, in his quest to perfect the programme, tries to apprehend Kevin and get his identity disc to gain the information he possesses and finish his ultimate plan, which I won’t spoil for you. Because of this Kevin doesn’t make it to the portal and is stranded in cyberspace indefinitely.
Into the mix is thrown Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), the estranged son of Kevin, orphaned at age six when Kevin disappeared from the real world to the world of the Grid. He becomes a pawn in the grand scheme played out by Clu against Kevin and hopes to get to Kevin through Sam. In the events Sam is saved by Quorra (Olivia Wilde), a mysterious, almost human-like programme that is somehow affiliated with Kevin. This is where the big wheels get turning really fast and plot-wise the interesting part starts. However, that is where most of the action stops, which is what basically made up for the first half of the movie. The movie feels like the director couldn’t really mix up action and plot so decided to outweigh each other by dedicating each their own half of the movie. In a way it works, letting the audience dig the action and then focus on the subtleties of the plot, but then again it feels as if the excitement that was a big part of the beginning is almost completely lacking from the latter half which is a disappointment because the movie does deliver on both accounts. Too bad that the makers seem to be holding out for the sequel, it feels like they are laying the groundwork for a mythos like Matrix did before it. Let’s just hope Tron doesn’t go the way Matrix did with its sequels.
What is interesting in the movie is that it manages to mix in an allegory of totalitarianism, Christianity and Zen philosophy. Clu acts as the dictator of the totalitarian state of Tron and as the Antichrist of Christianity whereas Kevin is the resistance and the deity and Sam is both the son of God and the prodigal son. You’ll figure that all out when you see it. I don’t mind all that, since I thought they were rather fitting allegories, but I was not expecting to see such allegories in Tron although they are not really deep. Although I have yet to see the original, the Tron of 1982 doesn’t strike me as something as deep as to convey all those allegories, although it was in its time an optimistic prediction of the future of technology, all of which has now been surpassed by a mile. In a way it is still kind of fitting that Jeff Bridges gets to say he thought of Wifi over 20 years ago.
The score and visual effects get their merits as well. The proto-ageing Bridges is put through to create the visuals for Clu are impressive to say the least, although the eyes look empty at times and his expression a bit rigid, but there were occasions that I truly thought it was Bridges himself on screen somehow younger. Maybe it’s the Zen thing? The world of Tron is impressive as well, with stunning contrasts of light and dark and astounding architectural constructs that could well exist in a virtual world. The visuals do get a bit samey though, and the 3D constant darkness is magnified by the 3D glasses. The 3D by the way is brilliantly realised. I don’t remember a single scene in which stuff flies literally in your face, but it is used intuitively to create a contrast with the real world, shot in 2D, and the virtual reality, shot in 3D adding great depth to the world. The score by Daft Punk is also evoking, which rather struck me as exceptional as I don’t usually prefer electronic music. Yet the electronic flourishes in the midst of symphonic instruments add to the atmosphere of the virtual reality. The soundtrack is actually one of the few that I’ve listened to without the movie itself and enjoyed it, even as I’m writing this review.
Despite all of its brilliantly realised pieces Tron: Legacy fails to be an astounding experience, nevertheless captivating. Like a jazz band with all of its brilliant players can make a piece seem cluttered with all the brilliance. I really can’t put my finger on what was off with Tron: Legacy, but there definitely was something that failed to make it an amazing experience. It definitely is a good movie worth a second viewing, but somehow it just falls short of being brilliant, with all of its great parts.