This afternoon I and many of my co-workers took in a matinee of Tron: Legacy, a film about taking a property beloved by nerds born in the 1970s and applying jiggery-pokey to it so that it can be re-franchised, re-packaged, and re-sequel-ed to the world’s new Generation-Z masters.
Once upon a time, I had a weird hallucination (or maybe it was a bad dream?) about a mythical fourth Indiana Jones film. In this dream, the filmmakers tried to re-engineer a beloved film series in such a way that they could continue the franchise using the main character’s son. Legacy actually manages to set those ducks in a row, though it has a few flaws.
One of the best things about Tron: Legacy is that it brings the audience the answer to a question that is nearly always left on the table with Epic Adventures: What happened later?
What, exactly, did Flynn do in the years after he left the digital world in Tron? We know he became CEO of ENCOM, sure – the original film tells us that. But, putting yourself in Flynn’s shoes, would you ignore the massive technological breakthrough that was physical digitalization? Wouldn’t you try to re-create the events and go back – only on your own terms?
I sure as hell would. And just like Flynn, I wouldn’t tell a soul. I’d keep it all for myself.
Which is pretty much exactly what we are told happened. Flynn uses his experience on the grid to write a new game, a new story – one that becomes a merchandizing empire and cements ENCOM as a new Microsoft.
Flynn has a son. We are shown the two of them sharing a bedtime story, one that explains What Happened. We watch Flynn ride off on his Ducati to the office. . . and he never returns.
Flash forward 20 years. Sam, Flynn’s son, is the majority shareholder of ENCOM but has no intrest in running it. Alan, Flynn’s old partner (and the digital Tron’s “user”) is on the company’s board and has served as Sam’s surrogate father. Sam has become the spoiled, reckless stereotyped rich-kid-iconoclast we expect him to be. He’s a master hacker and loves motorcycles.
There is a MacGuffin event and Sam discovers his father’s old office, complete with a hidden digitizing-laser, which (obviously) accidentally fires and sends Sam into the Grid.
Now we have a Tron Movie.
In its heart, Legacy is a liberal application of HAL 9000 and Monkey’s Paw to a modern Frankenstein story. See, Flynn created a slave program, a version of himself, named CLU. CLU was programmed to create a “perfection”, and, as decades of science-fiction stories have taught us, you must be extremely exact in the commands you give to artificial intelligences.
CLU’s interpretation of “perfect” differs from Flynn’s. Shit goes down: Tron is killed (kind of) and Flynn is trapped in the Grid. CLU takes over and starts a digital holocaust. Sam, of course, is our flesh-and-blood messiah to the digital world.
Legacy’s greatest weakness lies in what I will hesitantly call an over-complication of plot. All of the elements make sense, and the scenes work well, but it’s very heavy on exposition: much is told and not shown.
Well and good; it’s a deep story. The movie strives to relate as much as possible through flashback sequences but some of the more esoteric philosophy will likely leave audiences cold. The failure lies in the film’s connective tissue: its ligaments and cartilage aren’t quite strong enough to support the bones and meat and it comes off as a tad too-long.
I’m not going to spoil it any further except to say that the ending (of course) prepares us for further sequels – ones that do not depend on the presence of The Dude.
The film’s visuals are simply stunning and its soundtrack is perfect. The cast delivers what they promise (especially Bridges, who serves two roles, one of which is a computer-generated “younger” version of himself). There was really only one character, the nightclub owner, who I hated. Most of the remaining characters resemble porn stars.
There are countless homages to other films: dialog snippets, camera angles, action sequences. There’s a batmobile and a lot of Lebowski fan service.
Go see it and have fun with it, but know that it’s not going to be Citizen Kane, and it doesn’t try to be.