Saturday, April 26, 2014

Tron: Legacy review

    I mentioned in my previous review how much I enjoyed the original Tron movie. Yes, I was shamelessly gushing with fan boy nostalgia when I reviewed it but I don't regret doing so. My childhood was marketed to me by entertainment conglomerates and, for that, I am eternally grateful because they made it awesome.

    However, a sequel to a thirty-year-old movie can result in fans of the original being extra-suspicious when the final results are put out to view. Superman Returns and the Star Wars Prequels are just some of the kinds of bad eggs we've had to deal with. It doesn't help Tron is a really strange movie, as I've mentioned before. The modern internet makes the idea of billions of AI living in a digital world no less impossible but certainly more emotionally relevant. We're all connected to a modern-day Grid run by an ubiquitous Big Brother figure so Tron is more relevant than ever (Hi, NSA!).

The costumes and actors are lovely in this work.
    So what did I think of Tron: Legacy? Well, I would first re-title the movie, Star Wars: Tron: Legacy.

    Next, I would say it's pretty damn good.

    While people have been remaking Star Wars since the first movie came out, I think this is probably a better sequel to its themes and attitudes than not just the Prequels but the two dozen or so other knock-offs I can think of off the top of my head. The generational saga of good versus evil, authoritarianism and rebellion, plus the mystical nature of the Force are all successfully transcribed to this movie.

The gladiator fights are several times better than the original, which were pretty awesome to begin with.
    So, I say to my fellow geeks nothing is going to feel very original here but it's still being told in an enjoyable way. Like, it's a burger and fries of science fiction/fantasy but it's a good burger and fries. Double-paddies with onions, ketchup, mustard, mayor, and served with a large-sized coke. The original movie was a nice burger too so combining it with Star Wars (which it was pretty similar to anyway) is two tastes which go great together.

    The premise of Tron: Legacy is Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) from the original Tron, has inherited his father's multibillion dollar empire after the latter's disappearance. A mysterious page from Kevin Flynn's old arcade leads his son to a device which digitizes him and takes him to an updated grid ruled by his father's lookalike double, the malevolent Clu (also Jeff Bridges).

    Sam Flynn plays the Luke Skywalker role while Clu is the Emperor crossed with Darth Vader. Despite having some of Darth Vader's properties, Clu has his own Darth Vader analog in the silent assassin Rinzler. It's a minor spoiler but Kevin Flynn takes on elements of Obi-Wan and Yoda in the movie too. Our heroes even take a journey to a Mos Eisley cantina, of sorts. This version, though has Daft Punk playing in-universe DJs versus large-brained Bith playing space jazz.

    FYI, the soundtrack for this movie is awesome. Daft Punk was an inspired choice to do the music and their electronic sounds are worth buying separate from the film. The fact they were able to wear their costumes in the Grid with only minor alterations shows just how perfect they were for the movie. I've since purchased the Tron Legacy soundtrack and also a remix of their work by other artists. I listen to both as I do my writing. It's that good.

    The homages run hot and thick throughout Tron: Legacy, referencing the original movie as well as other movies in multiple ways but without being impenetrable to new viewers. While there's a couple of excessive info-dumps at the start of the movie, just about anyone will be able to pick up on the archetypal story of a son looking for his father in a fantastic new world. While I can't say Sam Flynn is a particularly interesting character, Jeff Bridge's Kevin Flynn and Olivia Wilde's Quorra more than make up for it.

The city is a gorgeous blue color-pallet and monument to CGI.
     Wilde does a wonderful job playing a super-talented cyber-warrior who takes Tron's place in the narrative. There's a nice gender reversal of the traditional, "student falls for his master's child" in Wuxia.  The fact she's one of the loveliest women in Hollywood, IMHO, doesn't hurt either. Jeff Bridges shows off his acting chops by playing the now-wise and semi-divine Kevin Flynn as well as the Satanic Clu. It's difficult enough playing two different characters but managing a father-son relationship between yourself is a new level of acting chops.

    We also get a really good insight into the culture of the Programs. They're just like humans in some ways, yet profoundly different in other respects. The conflict between the Programs (who are fundamentally non-chaotic ordered beings) and the Isos (who are chaotic--just like humans) drives much of the plot's backstory. We also get a simple but worthwhile moral about the impossibility and subjectiveness of perfection.

The light-cycles are still wonderful.
    The Christian symbolism remains a major feature of this movie, this time placing Kevin Flynn as the Father and Sam Flynn as the Son. Clu, as mentioned above, represents Satan and the wayward Firstborn. While the fall of Satan has only a minor role in the Bible and is debatable in many circles as having happened at all but the mythology used here will be familiar to those who know the popular consensus. Clu (Satan) fell from grace because of his jealousy of the Isos (Humanity) and has devoted himself to the overthrow of the Users (God) as a result. We even have the Tolkien-reference to Satan/Clu being unable to create but only re-purpose existing programs.

    The world-building of Tron: Legacy hints at a much larger and more fascinating world than the original with plenty of world to expand beyond the existing borders. No sooner did I finish this movie did I want to watch the animated series, Tron: Uprising. Not only is Clu's army delightfully villainous but there's rebels, criminals, and other factions competing on a game field which is only touched upon by the movie proper.

    Some individuals may question the movie's cyberpunk credentials and, fair enough, it's stretching the definition. Still, I loved the depiction of the 21st century's ENCOM as a corrupt and intellectually bankrupt organization. Clu's totalitarian regime is a combination of the Nazis, Roman Empire, and Galactic Empire but it's still an example of technology oppressing technology even if it's just in the most literal sense. Mostly, though, I love the look and that's cyberpunk enough for me to give it the tag.

Daft Punk didn't need to change their costumes to fit in. They really didn't.
    In conclusion, Tron: Legacy is a great movie. Is it a deep movie? No. Is it a fun movie? Very much so. The costumes are beautiful, the CGI is wonderful, the acting is good with some great, and the action is enjoyable. I heartily recommend any fans of the original and science-fiction fans in general to check the work out. I've found it's not only good but gets better with repeated viewings.


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