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Netflix Review: TRON Legacy
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Netflix Review: TRON LegacyTRON Legacy
Netflix Streaming
DVD | Blu-Ray
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Starring Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Beau Garrett, Michael Sheen, James Frain, Bruce Boxleitner, Daft Punk, Cillian Murphy
Walt Disney Pictures
Originally Released: December 17, 2010

TRON Legacy is a film that, for many of us, was a generation in waiting. Many of us who were children of the Eighties were floored with the richness and uniqueness of the original TRON film, sadly now quite dated (visually, though the story still stands up), as it was a statement of the budding tech generation we were becoming a part of. For decades, we waited for the potential of a sequel, and some of us lost all hope.

Then in 2008, something exciting happened at San Diego Comic-Con. Disney previewed new “test” footage in a trailer that was somewhat of a “proof-of-concept”. Then called TR2N, the sequel news set the internet on fire – as countless fans of the original movie enjoyed the fever of the news that another chapter was coming out. I’m sure even Tron Guy was amused.

So the expectation for TRON Legacy was, quite probably, as big as it was for Star Wars fans waiting for The Phantom Menace. It is perhaps now a historical trend that such high anticipations lead to enormous let-downs for several. Fandom is divided on the merits of Star Wars‘ return to cinema, as it is on TRON‘s return also.

But is TRON Legacy any good?

It’s not that easy a question to answer. As with the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy, though condemned venomously by the vocal folks who disliked them, there are some positive merits to these films despite the haters. The same is the case with TRON Legacy. While the film lives up to the original in a visual sense, there are rudiments that do not match with the first TRON movie, proving to result in a mixed experience for lovers of the original material.

TRON Legacy commences decades after the original movie – so long in fact, you could almost call it a reboot (in some senses within the context of the plot, it literally is in places). Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), our hero from the original movie, has vanished, leaving his son Sam in the care of grandparents, and leaving his company Encom in the hands of corrupt business interests. Flynn’s disappearance is one of great mystery – unsolved and full of enigmatic oddities.

Years later, Sam (Garett Hedlund) is 27 years old. He is disillusioned by the commercial direction of his father’s company, and takes Batman-style steps (with a dash of Hackers meets The Matrix) to ensure Kevin Flynn’s legacy of free operating system software remains exactly that: free. Keeping an eye on the board of directors is Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), who preserves the Flynn families’ interest in the direction of the company.

Bradley meets Sam later and explains he obtained a mysterious message from his father, originating from Flynn’s old arcade store. Sam investigates, only to discover that his father was developing a new technology based on that he experienced in the first movie. His inquisitiveness proves to be fateful, as the immersive tech used to insert Flynn into a digital universe, does the same to Sam.

Netflix Review: TRON Legacy

Sam finds himself in The Grid, a multifaceted digital universe created by his father utilizing the simulated reality he experienced in the first movie. The Grid was accomplished in cooperation with TRON (Bruce Boxleitner) and CLU (Jeff Bridges), an AI program advanced by Flynn that adopts his likeness, with the mandate to strive for perfection.

As Sam finds himself in this unexpected new universe, he begins a quest to find his lost father. Along the way he learns that CLU’s mandate for perfection self-expanded into the drive to eradicate imperfection, turning him into the dystopian head of state (by default) of The Grid. Corrupted, the program formerly known as TRON stands by CLU’s side, as they aim to escape into the “real world” to continue their striving for perfection and their eradication of the imperfect.

The perception of a program escaping into the real world seems obtuse and ridiculous on the surface, if not for the sub-plot of Kevin Flynn’s discovery of bridging the gap between digital simulation and reality, in the form of the self-evolved Isomorphic Algorithms – conscious living beings built on digital code, with a form of DNA that would bridge the gap between The Grid and The World.

The filmmakers of TRON Legacy go out of their way to emphasize that the world of the original TRON, figuratively speaking, are now here. Large corporate displays, high-speed internet, wireless connectivity, rooms full of server and network racks, the debate between commercial and open-source software, portable devices, and more all make major appearances in the early opening moments of the film. This makes for a wonderful eye-candy opening, but amidst this, who didn’t smirk at the absurdity of a Disney movie with a character advocating the “piracy” of a corporate operative system?

Looking at the script as an overarching theme, the writers (Adam Horowitz, Edward Kitsis, Brian Klugman, and Lee Sternthal) have accomplished a solid architecture from which to build a wonderful story. Unfortunately this is where the sturdiness ends. As TRON Legacy progresses, there is only minor character development, seen only in our protagonist Sam Flynn. The film itself is inappropriately named, with the character TRON (in his true form) taking up mere minutes on-screen. Basically the story should have been titled Flynn Legacy, for that is what this story is about – the transference of knowledge from father to son – passing on what is learned in the hope that the son avoids the sins of the father.

Netflix Review: TRON Legacy

There are some subplot principled themes that run through the story, but they appear so frequently and in great number that they lose a lot of impact. Environment awareness, perfection vs. imperfection, the age old concept of good versus evil, the harmful impact of corporate greed, redemption, even existentialism all make vague appearances in the story – but they flow with a deluge of “too much, too quickly”, that it is almost impossible for the audience to pick out which nuances the writers are truly trying to impress. The effectiveness of the plot would have been stronger if several of these elements were played down more, and a few select aspects bolstered further and given stronger correlation to the storyline overall and its conclusion.

Garrett Hedlund takes on the role of Flynn’s son, Sam. The character, at the start, is similar to that of Bruce Wayne. A young man orphaned at a young age, wealthy from the legacy of his father, yet not ready to take his Encom Company into his direction – instead disillusioned from the exploitation of corporate interests, taking adventurism and activism against his own company to do “what is right”. Hedlund does a commendable job as Sam in the movie, though he does not touch the timeless effort of Jeff Bridges from the original.

Jeff Bridges, as always, is at his supreme A-plus grade. No matter the content or the story, Bridges eternally disappears into his role(s), and the case of TRON Legacy is of no exception. His performances in the film are noteworthy, but completely wrecked in the “real world” scenes where is younger self performances are spoiled by the uncooked CGI. More on this later”¦

Olivia Wilde is agreeable in the movie, though I fear her presence was included more for another form of eye candy, if you will. Wilde has some acting chops behind her, so it’s disappointing we don’t hear more from her through the movie, despite her prominent role. In terms of the overall story, she is viewed by the writers and director Joseph Kosinski as nothing more than a plot device, which highly damages both her character and the story overall.

Also unfortunate was the casting of James Frain as Jarvis, to be put in the film as a Michael Berryman lookalike.

Netflix Review: TRON Legacy

Seriously, why not grab Berryman for the role? He would have been perfect for it, and he certainly acts rings around Frain.

For the intentions of nostalgia, I have to say that it is wonderful seeing Bruce Boxleitner again on screen. His demeanor works well in the “real world” sequences, and his minor screen appearances here fit the role of a small Kenobi/Gandalf cameo role, directing our protagonist towards the direction of the rabbit hole. Cillian Murphy‘s uncredited appearance as the son of Ed Dillinger (David Warner in the original) is also a nice touch for the continuity nerds and fans of the original film.

Michael Sheen also puts in a commendable performance in TRON Legacy, in his “Ziggy Stardust meets Talon Karrde” role of Castor, proprietor of the End Of Line club. Sheen commands your attention on screen during all sequences he is in, with a showman-style performance that is both memorable as it is amusing. It’s a pity he is not in the movie more than he is – though one would expect there could be room for his talents in a potential sequel down the line.

Naturally, the visual effects of an excellent standard, though there are some moments of critical note. While within the universe of The Grid, the young CGI Jeff Bridges is fits reasonably in the identity of the evil CLU. Nevertheless, in the scenes of Flynn in everyday life, the digital Bridges is a solemn reminder that we are so very far away from the ability to create a CGI human stand realistically next to a real person on film – let alone speak, move, and interact. We are close. But just not close enough in TRON Legacy. These moments are as distinguishable as “not real” that it takes the viewer out of the experience. Creating a realistic younger avatar of an older actor is not yet within the realm of possibility.

Where the CG visuals win, however, is the entry into the TRON universe – into the Grid. Inside is a completely new universe, reminiscent of the original TRON film, but light-years ahead of where it was. The new TRON delivers a sense of complexity and realism, bringing forth a convincing and conceivable universe consisting of its own rules and physics. This is what the original makers of TRON possibly could have envisioned and the advance of visual effects in our age have brought it forward into a highly pleasurable display of eye-candy that makes for an exciting popcorn flick. The entrance into the Grid is eye-opening, the games of wonderful depth, and the light-cycle sequences are breathtaking – it is a universe of escape for the viewers.

The soundtrack by Daft Punk is also superb (as is their cameo appearance as MP3 files). The band and their music totally suit the ambiance and style of TRON Legacy – it is almost as if they were born and formed for this specific film. I could not imagine viewing TRON Legacy without their music, and on top of that, the songs are also enjoyable to listen to outside of the film – always a winning indication of a memorable film soundtrack.

Netflix Review: TRON Legacy

The closing credits mesmerizes simply because of Daft Punk’s delightful end titles, the electronic duo thrusting forth a masterpiece that has TRON both in its blood and bones – a closing credits sequence you sit through simply for the music alone.

But is it any good? The brief answer is, yes. TRON Legacy is a world you can escape to, into a universe of eye-candy. Look any deeper than this, however, and you will be sorely disappointed. The plot work done for this sequel is sub-par to the original film, and comes across as a “draft script” rather than the final product provided for filming. The story writing feels like a rushed, unfinished product, and this does detract from the overall appeal of the movie. Though it could have been so much better, TRON Legacy is, however, a fun ride, strengthened by its immersive visual effects. This is one of the few movies out there where the visuals are more important than story. Imagine how it could have been with a top-notch script.

Overall Rating: 3½ out of 5


  1. As one who grew up on the original (and now the proud owner of the original on BluRay as well as Legacy), I agree with pretty much everything in this writeup.

    I thought they did a pretty good job on recreating the TRON universe 30 years later (Kevin disappeared 20 years ago, but that was several years after the events of TRON already).

    I think they were in a tough spot with the title, though. But looking back, the original was focused on Flynn more than Tron as well, and Tron/Rinzler are represented approximately equivalently to his presentation in the original. But if they had tried to market the movie with a title without Tron in the name, they would have lost a lot of potential moviegoers who wouldn’t have the same interest level as they did when the first teaser dropped.

    I started thinking further about CLU becoming the dystopian lord of The Grid and came upon the old Latin construct of “panem et circenses” or “Bread and circuses”. CLU was providing order in the system and appeasing the masses by allowing residents to indulge in spectator sports (the more brutal, the better). If they are entertained, they will not revolt.

    I have to keep reminding my “I don’t get it” family member  that everything we see “On The Grid” in TRON and Legacy is a symbolic representation. Data constructs, by their nature of being simply pulses on a wire, are formless, and it’s our own visualization that makes things on The Grid appear as they are. I’m also reminded in this concept of Neo once he becomes The One. He sees The Matrix (or The Grid, if you will) for what it is: Patterns of bits flowing within a system.

    Anyway, that’s my overly-analytical opinion.

    Comment by Nathan — February 20, 2012 @ 3:26 pm

  2. I hope the reviewer enjoyed watching this streaming on Netflix while he could because, as of the end of February, it — and a bunch of other movies previously provided through the Netflix–Starz contractual relationship — will no longer be available.

    Comment by GoodbyeTron — February 20, 2012 @ 10:11 pm

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