On this dark and stormy Monday night, The Nerdette and I braved the 405 South to journey to the largest, oldest IMAX 3D screen around in order to see TRON: Legacy as it was meant to be seen. We had been enthused about it since we saw 8 minutes of footage at Comic-Con (and we even got to be part of the crowd noises in the movie) and it did not disappoint!
I’ve not read any reviews of the movie but from their titles (and it’s 49% professional review rating on Rotten Tomatoes) it’s clear that this movie has gotten a drubbing. I must say, sometimes I feel that critics don’t go into a movie to actually watch and enjoy the film, but simply to find fault.
The plot of the original TRON was basically “Kevin Flynn finds himself unwittingly quantized into a digital world which he created and he must survive and find a way back to the real world.” The plot of TRON: Legacy is basically “Sam Flynn finds himself unwittingly quantized into a digital world which his father created and he must survive and find a way back to the real world.” Not a ton of variation there. And the narrative structure of TRON: Legacy is the hero’s journey, without any real twists or turns. So certainly, anyone looking to find fault in this movie for not being particularly original will have no trouble doing so.
But the reason that the hero’s journey is so classic is because it’s an (innately, some would say) satisfying arc, so while simple, the plot keeps it entertaining. The screenwriters do bring a modern sensibility to the movie, turning The Grid from simply a virtual game reality (as in the first one) to a virtual fascist dictatorship, run by CLU, the avatar of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges). The nazi symbolism is definitely served thick: CLU’s goal is to crate a perfect system, and he commits total genocide against the “isos,” another kind of program identifiable by tattoos on their arms (indeed, one way we know that Kevin Flynn is one of the good guys is how he saves a Jew—er, iso—from extermination). Ultimately CLU and his “master race” army threatens the real world, as he wants to re-quantize his forces into un-virtual space and delete all the imperfection he sees (and as we know, the non-digital world is full of imperfections…). This isn’t Shakespeare, and the writers make sure that everyone will walk out of this movie knowing that they’re saying “technology is a tool not an end in itself, don’t let it control us.”
But this isn’t a “think piece,” this is ultimately a fun adventure, and TRON: Legacy heaps on the fun. The digital world is absolutely marvelous. It’s textured and deep and gorgeous. And the video games (remember, it’s still ultimately a game world that Flynn created) have been turbocharged and then some. The music is excellent (seriously, buy this soundtrack, it’s amazing!) and the action is fast, furious, and engaging.
The plot is there to hold the adventure scenes in the movie together, and it does it just fine. And a lot of the credit for that has to go to the actors. Jeff Bridges is so damn good that he could have just faxed in his performance, but he takes it seriously enough to get some real feeling in there. Yeah, he channels The Dude, having become the Zen Master of the digital world since he was trapped down there, but it’s appropriate and he does it like he means it. The young principals also do very well. Really, my only criticism would be of the “de-aging” CGI they used on Bridges to create CLU. As “realistic” as it can be when Bridges holds a pose or an expression, when it comes to speaking and interacting with others there is still a “stiffness” around the mouth and eyes that gives it away.
To end as I began, the movie did not disappoint. The plot was thin, the theme obvious, but it held together a really engaging adventure just fine. And probably due to the quality of the acting, it even managed to turn what might have been cheesy lines or moments into legitimately sweet ones. I would wholeheartedly recommend this movie to anyone looking for extremely polished, fun escapist adventure that will get your pulse moving and leave you smiling. It may not be a deep slice of philosophy or original storytelling, but it never claims to be. This movie is pure entertainment, and it does it beautifully.