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Tron: Legacy

The original Tron movie, released about three decades ago, was a childhood favorite of mine. As a kid it had everything that a movie needed, fancy effects, some excellent action scenes, lots of battles, none of that love story crap to get in the way, it was about video games before that automatically meant the movie would suck, and something about a plot or whatever. When I first heard that there was going to be a sequel to Tron, I was intrigued but not overly excited. The movie may have come out almost 30 years ago but I haven’t seen it in at least half of that time. Other childhood favorites have held up: I can’t bear to watch the Transformers movie now, nor any of the Ninja Turtles (no one thinks to buy a gun in those movies) movies, and for some reason finding Tron is difficult. The only movie from back then that really resonates still is Big Trouble in Little China, but being one of the greatest movies of all time isn’t really fair to the others, or more accurately at least that movie knew not to take itself seriously.

The original Tron was something the boys could talk about on the bus, without having to endure conversations with those cootie riddled girls sitting in the front.  A few years back I bumped into one of those cootie riddled girls at a bar, her name was Kelly and she was extremely gorgeous, ten minutes into our conversation I realized that she was as dumb as a brick but I couldn’t pry my eyes away from her. I talked to Kelly until I had to leave but to this day I couldn’t tell you what she was talking about.

Tron Legacy is just like Kelly. It’s Tron all grown up as insanely beautiful as possible but with noting beneath it. It’s mildly entertaining, and like my conversation with Kelly I don’t consider it a waste of time, but I’m honest that I like the view more than the conversation. Tron: Legacy is about as gorgeous as a movie can get. Every thing in the movie is polished to the point of unreality, it looks almost too good to be real, and by that I mean the images. We know the movie is fake, we know the grid doesn’t actually exist, but looking at the light bike races the grace and elegance of the images made me doubt what I was watching.

There’s some plot here but it’s pretty thin. The grid has been taken over by a fake Jeff Bridges called “Clu,” who is supposed to be designing the perfect system. Clu is a digital copy of the Bridges from the first movie and he looks fake, because he is fake. He’s a program not a user, but in his desire for perfection he’s adopted an iron hand in his drive forward. Ultimately Clu’s goal is to take his army to the portal in order to leave the Grid and enter into our world.

There’s also a story about the actual Bridges, Kevin Flynn who is trapped in the Grid for decades (which translates to hundreds of years inside the machine) and his son who abandoned in this world has to seek him out. There is also a fermenting revolution against Clu’s despotic control that is introduced and then quickly dropped. Add in some metaphors about how much people don’t like change, about genocide and purges; and there is the movie.

The trouble for the movie is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a father/son reuion movie, is it a movie about revolution, or what? There is also a new life form that spontaneously generated in the Grid which apparently holds the key solving all of the world’s dilemmas about disease, religion, philosophy, etc. This life form represented in the person of Olivia Wilde (formerly of House M.D.) is never explained as to how she is supposed to solve these problems.

The movie would have been great if it has just been about rescuing old Flynn by young Flynn from the Grid and the clutches of Clu. However the writers of the movie used too much of a heavy hand by putting in the Quasi-Zen philosophy essentially making the same mistake the Wachowski brothers did in the final Matrix movie. Being deep or philosophical in a movie requires nuance and subtlety, not a giant sign that states “deep message here.”

These are all the reasons to not like the movie. It is however an excellent exercise in style and effect over substance. As I have said earlier that movie looks beautiful, and if you can stomach the 3d movie experience* I’d recommend it simply for the light cycle races alone.

At the end of that night at the bar, I said goodnight to Kelly and walked out instantly forgetting everything we had talked about. This movie isn’t supposed to be more than the best eye candy I’ve ever seen on the screen, which makes it a perfect sequel because the first movie wasn’t anything deep either. I can’t recommend it any more than I can recommend going out with a gorgeous but vacuous woman (an easy tip is to ask them what that word means), sure it looks nice but in the end we get used to appearances and find them lacking. The movie is a beautiful illusion but it’s exceedingly pleasant to look at.

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*Which I learned makes me motion sick as well as giving me a headache.  

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