TRON: LEGACY: This Year, We Put a 12 on the Box

TRON: Legacy (2010) – Directed by Joseph Kosinski – Starring Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen, James Frain, Jeffey Nordling, Cillian Murphy, and Bruce Boxleitner.

TRON: LEGACY is one of the most richly gorgeous films to watch I’ve ever experienced. It’s a movie soaked in pristine CGI, offering the perfect blend of darkness highlighted by bright neon blues and reds, and much like the original TRON, the landscape of the Grid is unique and wholly realized, and I could watch the Light Cycles and Light Jets on repeat for days without getting bored.

Unfortunately, I’d have to do this with the dialogue off after a while because LEGACY is a cookie-cutter rescue story peppered with some theological mumbo-jumbo that detracts from, rather than adds to the story. LEGACY is a Disney movie, of course, and it’s hard not to see it as a Disney-fied attempt to do the Matrix for an all-ages audience. However irritating The Matrix is (and it is insanely irritating), it felt like the theological and philosophical aspects of the movie were woven tightly into the crafting of the story. Here in LEGACY, however, it just feels like one day Jeff Bridges was like, “Hey, man, how about instead of playing Flynn I play the Dude after he’s become a cult leader?” When Flynn says things like, “You’re messing with my Zen thing, man!” it feels divorced from the core of this film.

It’s a weird complaint on my part because if this was just a rescue story I’d probably be saying that the plot is too weak, because it is, but here I am ragging on the film for trying to spruce that story up. The problem is that it just feels weird – the Grid has become a much flashier place since the last movie but it’s also become a more disconnected place. Part of the problem is that the threats this time around are all internal to the Grid. The external world has no impact on what happens once Flynn’s son Sam (Hedlund) enters the world.

And that’s a problem because at the start of the movie they spend a few minutes establishing the outer world threat. ENCOM has become this corporate giant, endlessly bilking money out of their customers with unnecessary updates to their programs. As the movie opens they’re about to release the twelfth version of it’s operating system. Alan Bradley (Boxleitner) sits at the board meeting and asks what’s different about this version.

“This year,” the CEO snarks back, “we put a 12 on the box.”

Alan and Flynn, it seems, have become champions of open source software, desiring to change the world and all that, while the company is evil because it wants to make buckets of money. Cillian Murphy shows up to play the programming son of the bad guy from the first movie, which makes you think all of this corporate greed and sniveling programmer punkishness is going to be the bad guy.

But they’re not. This whole opening sequence is used just to show that Sam pulls a big yearly prank on ENCOM, even though he’s their largest shareholder. It’s a really fantastic sequence that looks great and moves great and sets up this wonderful open source vs. corporate locked idea of the internet and then …

Then Sam enters the Grid and it’s a movie about rescuing his dad and protecting Quorra (Wilde) because she’s the hottest woman in the Grid. No, wait, it’s because she’s the most kick-ass wom- nope, it’s because she’s an isomorphic algorithm. Which means she’s an ISO. Which mean’s she important beyond her hotness and kick-ass-ness; she’s important because she’s the last survivor of a group of self-producing systems that Clu (the computer program that Flynn created in his image) wanted purged but Flynn thinks is the key to … wait for it … changing absolutely everything about everything.

If at this point the camera panned back to find Flynn standing in his bathrobe, in a bowling alley, with a half-smoked joint, you wouldn’t have been surprised. Well, okay, you would have been surprised, but he sounds more like the Dude than Flynn.

I kept waiting for Clu and Cillian Murphy to be in cahoots, but nope. Clu wants to create a perfect system because that’s what Flynn told him to do, and he’s taking it to the nth degree. In a flashback we see that Clu betrayed Flynn, and Tron (the security program that Alan built in the last movie) sacrificed himself to allow Flynn to escape. Of course, Clu then reprogrammed Tron to be his main ass-kicker and called him Rinzler because …

Yeah, I don’t know. If you’re going to bother to reprogram Tron and have him on your side, wouldn’t you keep calling him Tron to garner public support? Or to instill fear? No, of course not, you give him a stupid name and never let him take his helmet off as he kills people for you in the arena. Really, Clu (which wouldn’t be an acceptable villain’s name if this was a Care Bear movie) doesn’t let Tron/Rinzler take his helmet off because the movie wants it to be a surprise.

Well, it’s not.

And that’s the problem with the story as it’s presented in LEGACY. We get all this time with the ENCOM set-up, and then no pay-off, and then when we get to the Grid, all of the Grid history is given to us in flashback. Pick a plot and go with it. We’d get a better story if either ENCOM was the real bad guy or if we got the Clu/Flynn/Tron betrayal as the opening action sequence. Instead, LEGACY promises one story and then switches to another.

For some reason LEGACY feels the need to replicate the second-half of TRON – our heroes get on one of those “freighters on a light beam” things in order to get to the Portal, which will allow them to escape back to reality. That’s really all they want – to escape – and it’s a shame because it feels like Flynn has just given up on the Grid and put all his faith in Quorra, who’s been living with him off the Grid in the Wastelands in an apartment that doesn’t look like it belongs in the Wasteland.

I love the look and feel of this movie prior to Flynn’s arrival, though. As I mentioned, it’s completely gorgeous and humans in the Grid no longer look like pasty zombies as they did in TRON. LEGACY manages to look and feel cool and I was really beginning to think we were seeing the birth of something special, but then Flynn comes in and it’s mumbo jumbo instead of Light Cycles and arena battles, and looking cool is replaced by what passes for deep thinking. Narrative set-ups are never followed through and payoffs come from things I really don’t care about. Sam is going to start using his power at ENCOM and make Alan CEO? So what. His dad just got obliterated in a self-sacrifice to allow him and Quorra to escape and his answer is to tell Bruce Boxleitner that he gets to be in charge? And we’re supposed to cheer because … ENCOM will be less evil now?

Sam goes outside of the old arcade and finds Quorra waiting for him. They jump on his bike and ride off into the sunrise and … yeah.

If nothing else, however, LEGACY is a film that I’ll eventually buy because even with the ineffectively presented narrative, LEGACY is more good than bad because of the amazing CGI and the awesome Daft Punk score.

I think the movie would’ve been better keeping a simpler narrative and giving us more of the CGI battles. Make it a straight escape, make Clu and Cillian Murphy be allies, and lose the half-assed religious blather. Just like TRON, when the characters get on that freighter the plot just grinds to a halt.

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3 thoughts on “TRON: LEGACY: This Year, We Put a 12 on the Box

  1. I both agree and disagree with your assessment here, Mark.

    The visuals were unquestionably cool, and did a great job both bringing back memories of the first film and showing how the world had grown/adapted over time. I was a little disappointed to see that they went for the ‘fascist police state’ once again for the state of the Grid, but at least it had a more organic feel to it.

    I actually liked what they’d done with Flynn, however. I am hoping that a lot more of the back-story gets filled in with the animated series next spring, but even just what we had in the film I could make sense of. I looked at him almost as a tragic hero in the Greek tradition. Hubris led him to literally create the instrument of his own downfall. He’d tried leading a rebellion only to fail and flee into exile.

    The The Dude-like zen lite stuff even made sense in that even in the first film he was a bit of a hippie throwback, attitude-wise, and he’d had a decade or two as a hermit to do nothing but think ‘deep thoughts’. His reading materials, I would guess had to be coded from his own memory (as the archaic mainframe the Grid was running on had no further external network connections) and as such would all tend to reflect or reinforce his own worldview. I figured he was using his personal version of zen to deal with the perceived hopelessness of his situation.

    In keeping with the tragic hero theme, he even has his moment of catharsis and redemption while chasing after and saving his son.

    I think the bigger sin was probably that a lot of what could have been short, flashback/exposition explaining Flynn’s current mental state was left in a vacuum Disney intended to fill with future sequels, prequels, and spin-offs.

    But that’s just my 2-cents here, and with inflation being what it is, that’s not much.

  2. Thanks for the comments, Eric. Always good to hear a new voice added to the mix, especially when they’re this thought out. Plus, I like being disagreed with. :) Makes me re-think my own position, and I think if the film had put a bit more of your take on Flynn into the movie and made him a more realized character, I would have liked it better.

    I don’t know about Flynn being too much of a hippie, though. I thought he was mad about being cut out of the financial rewards in TRON more than anything – the last scene is of him in a business suit stepping out of a helicopter like he’s the man in charge. I saw him as more “out of the box” than hippie. I thought they could’ve done more with how he chose to sacrifice his life on the outside being a parent to his son in order to be a parent/protector to Quorra on the inside, but probably the biggest problem with Flynn is just what you mention – not enough is done with him for him to feel like a real enough character for me.

    I just keep coming back to how this film was actually better than I thought it would be, but not as good as it could have been, so while I like it, I’m not sold by it.

  3. I would like to point out that you could see the letter “T” on trons chest, the same as it was in Uprising, in every scene he was in, it was there. Which then makes my ever increasingly frustrating mind wonder, was it beck or the original tron flynn programmed, that we saw in Legacy? Guys, just ignore my question. It’s waaaaay deep! (Jk) my main point was the “T” on his chest.

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