Filmgoer’s Flamethrower #31 – Tron Legacy

Posted: May 27, 2020 in Uncategorized

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© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

Practice makes perfect. When deciding to come back to the world of Tron, the filmmakers chose to hit all the required homages while figuring out an actually interesting script to go with the eye candy of a movie that has defined the term for more than thirty years.

Just a few years after Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) returned from the old Encom system with proof that corporate executives pirated his video game ideas and thus he deserved to be elected CEO, he disappears one night after telling his son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) about being on the verge of a miracle on the Grid created after the dust settled on the Master Control Program.

Twenty years later, Sam is a shiftless youth with a majority interest in Encom and no interest in running his father’s company. He loves his pranks played on the company at the yearly board meeting. This time he breaks in to release the 12.0 version of the company’s operating system online for free. And must flee the scene base jumping off the roof.

Old family friend and surrogate father, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) bails Sam out of jail and tells him of an impossible pager text from the long since disconnected landline number from Flynn’s old videogame arcade. Sam investigates, soon finding a hidden lab behind a copy of the videogame Tron where a digitizing laser waits to send Sam into the Grid.

And history largely repeats itself, what with Flynn’s old program, Clu (also Jeff Bridges) going wild in his programmed search for perfection taking over the Grid driving his creator, Flynn into hiding to protect his disk with the master codes to the Grid. Clu would very much like to use the codes to launch various programs into the real world…something that just can’t happen because Clu and the disorder of the real world just won’t mix.

The Bread and Circuses nature of the first movie is even more highly developed this time around as Sam is thrust immediately into the updated versions of Lightcycle Race and the Deadly Frisbee game played with each program’s control disk. The games are modestly improved with little tweaks and touches.

Lightcycle Maze Race, where the player rides motorcycles that stream solid walls of colored energy behind with the intent of boxing the other rider in for a vicious smush against a solid wall, gets the addition of three-dimensions with ramps and jumps to go up or down. Deadly Frisbee, where gladiators throw their control disks at each other destroying the glass walls and floors of the combat space, sees upgrades in the form of game physics, where each carom of the disks shatters glass instead of the neat derezzing from the first movie.

Sam survives these games given that his whole life in the real world is training. He rolls around on his father’s old Ducatti and had been playing the videogame versions of these sports since forever. And with the usual events, like trusting the wrong people, that naturally transpire he meets both Clu (age regressed Jeff Bridges) and his father (regular Jeff Bridges) seeing both sides of the coin of a man that tried to seek perfection. Oh, yeah, mustn’t forget Quorra (Olivia Wilde) a woman of mystery.

There are three intersecting relationships in this movie. The father/son relationship of Sam and Kevin. The twisted relationship between Clu and his creator, Kevin. And the whatever you want it to be thing between Sam and Quorra. And buried deep in these connections is a greater use of metaphor that nobody with a functional library card will miss.

For instance, we might liken Clu and Kevin to, perhaps how Yahweh might’ve felt seeing his creation, or child turn away from Grace becoming a violent, needy and scared species. Both Yahweh and Kevin Flynn initially spend a lot of time officially disengaged from the mess of his creation, until the prospect of a son forces changes in the system.

The Biblical metaphor breaks down a bit when you consider that Yahweh sent the son as an intentional shock to the system and Sam is more of an afterthought in the Flynn system aka the Grid. Still the themes of disengaging to avoid doing more harm should the creation acquire the Creator’s tools come through loud and clear, as witnessed by Clu kicking the door to Flynn’s lair and finding a table decoration of a bowl of metallic apples. Like I said the use of metaphor is both obvious as it is profound.

The other important relationship lies between Sam and Quorra. She represents the miracle alluded to by Flynn just before he was trapped in the Grid because it’s easier to get in from the real world then it is to get out. Quorra is the last surviving member of a new hybrid lifeform called an isomorphic algorithm, one that developed spontaneously in the Grid that Clu promptly wiped out to the last woman.

Was Clu jealous of the new species that Flynn promptly gave more attention to because of the possibilities to change the outside world? Does this make Clu Lucifer? Again with the Biblical metaphors.

Anyway, in her sojourn in hiding with Flynn she has learned much about the real world reading the books he brought with him and preferring Jules Verne. She also impatiently plays Go against Flynn’s calm measured Zen style to go with his disengagement with the Grid. She wants to see her first real sunrise in the real world.

I tend to think of Jeff Bridges as having two phases of his career demarcated by The Big Lebowski. After playing the great slacker that unintentionally founded a religion of slacker-ness, Mr. Bridges other roles since all seem measured against the Dude where – ‘that’s just your opinion, Man!” Maybe, he was always the Dude since becoming an adult, but in terms of what showed up on screen, the demarcation seems clear.

The later edition of Kevin Flynn who must act like the disengaged deity gazing his navel and forcing calm and peace around him is vintage post-Lebowski Jeff Bridges (he usually has to play a villain for this trope to be wrong). Nonetheless, he’s a great actor and as always, a joy to watch.

Ironically, despite being titled Tron: Legacy this movie really skimps on Tron the character. Yes, Flynn brought the security program over from the original system when he, Clu and Tron tried to build the Grid into a nice virtual place. But, in keeping with the Biblical metaphors of this movie, when Clu turns Tron leaps to defend Flynn’s much like the Archangel Michael did for Yahweh.

Tron took a beating giving the appearance of being dead only to come back as a servant of Clu. A faceless servant in a black mask recognizable by his two-disk fighting style. I guarantee you someone in the production breathed a sigh of relief at having to use CGI age-regression technology of only one actor, Jeff Bridges instead of two. It also takes Tron out of the movie, except as a plot device.

Anyway, I found myself enjoying the movie even more than the original. I’ve mentioned the thick and heavy-handed metaphor that helps give the illusion of depth. I also loved the fluid motion of the action elements where Mr. Hedlund gets into all kinds of funky positions almost flying as he did his own stunts. Olivia Wilde played her part with the profound innocence even dropping in – “have you met him?” – in reference to her favorite author Jules Verne. Who really wants to explain to a child about Death along with the concepts of Past, Present and Future?

Anyway, the effects and production design proved far more interesting than the original movie. Yes, telling a Tron story requires similar touchstones. Control disks you can throw as weapons. The lightcycles. And the beam riding skyships. The idea was to take what the original movie gave us and bringing it into some semblance of what Flynn and Sam might’ve actually seen with their eyes versus the painted on feel of the original.

I do have one quibble that the filmmakers couldn’t take the opportunity to invent at least one new game for the arena. Going back to the Lightcycle Maze Race and Deadly Frisbee, might have been a necessary nod/homage to the fans, but the Grid, like any society, evolves. Logic suggests that there could have been a third game for the brutal viewing pleasure of Clu as he intends the disposal of his enemies. An opportunity missed.

All in all, I really enjoyed this movie thinking it one of the few times where a sequel improves on the original. Check it out.

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