Movie review: Tron Legacy

It’s to my slight shame that I begin this Tron Legacy review with the admission that I’ve never actually seen the original 1982 Tron movie. The sum of my knowledge of Tron is that a dude gets sucked into a computer world where he has to do battle using lightcycles in order to escape.

That’s probably a gross and offensive simplification, and I apologise to Tron devotees. No, actually I don’t. It’s just a movie.

Tron Legacy Lightcycle

Anyway, Tron Legacy does its best to fill in the blanks for the new generation of moviegoers. Kevin Flynn has disappeared, in the process making his son an orphan and disappointing him immensely. Which drives young Sam Flynn to do what all fatherless movie characters do – act out like a spoilt rich kid. Did anyone else feel like the character of Sam Flynn was a mix of Bruce Wayne and ‘young’ James Kirk in the Star Trek reboot?

Elsewhere, Encom is a massive force in the world of software. It’s hard to decide whether the company is supposed to be a metaphor for either Microsoft or Apple. My guess is Apple, based on the name of the latest operating system (OS12) the company has released, though claiming the new version is “the most secure OS we’ve ever released” is pure Microsoft.

Sadly, the story itself lacks any real nuance or excitement. Boy loses father. Boy gets sucked into digital world and fights programs. Discovers his father’s been alive in The Grid for years. Boy tries to help father break out of digital world, but father gets left behind in final fight. Boy’s still happy because he’s got a hot new digital girlfriend to play with. The End.

Of course, this rather standard sci-fi tale is told against a visually stunning backdrop. When you compare the 1982 lightcycle race with the 2010 version, the advances in movie effects are mind-blowing. From the initial disc-battles that Sam gets thrown into to the thrilling lightcycle race, being immersed in this stunningly-lit virtual world is pure pleasure. And kudos to the design team for taking the original concept and evolving it to work in a film 30 years on! That’s a tall order, but expertly achieved in Tron Legacy.

The action sequences are thrilling stuff, especially that first gladiatorial battle in the arena – Sam’s just entered this alien, virtual world and is thrown into a life or death game. No time to adjust. I loved this. Unfortunately, the film seems to balance the action sequences with some dreary dialogue. This is most obvious when Sam escapes The Grid and is taken to meet his father. Kevin Flynn waffles on like a rambling Zenlord and Sam disagrees with his take on how they should handle the errant Clu. 

My biggest problem with this movie is that it’s an outdated story and tries to obscure that with the fancy graphics. The plot is simply not strong enough. This kind of thing might have been groundbreaking in 1982, but moviegoers in 2010 are used to more complex virtual worlds and far more nuanced stories. The Matrix is the obvious example, but even consider shows like Caprica which uses a virtual world as a kind of lawless frontier. Virtual worlds have come a long way in the last 30 years. It feels like they updated the CGI but left the screenwriting in the 1980’s.

Verdict: Tron Legacy, a 3D film filled with 2 dimensional characters. It’s not the most intellectually stimulating movie you’ll ever see, but the action sequences and visuals are good enough compensation.

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