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3.0 out of 5 stars TRON: Legacy simply makes you appreciate it's predecessor all the more (SPOILERS), March 1, 2011
This review is from: Tron: Legacy (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (Blu-ray)
Eight years ago, the closet thing Tron, Disney's 1982 Pioneering Special Effects venture gone horribly wrong (or right, depending on how you watch it), ever got to a sequel was the 2003 game Tron 2.0 and for all intents and purposes, it was probably a venture everybody except TRON fans were scratching their heads over. Six years later (I think), Disney releases a teaser demo of the future that would eventually become TRON: Legacy; TRON fans are ecstatic, general audiences (half of which are young enough to wonder "what or who the heck is Tron?") are wondering why Disney is even attempting to resurrect a non-franchise that barely gave them the desired revenue return they wanted well over two decades ago. Trepidation and excitement fills the air when the PR-machine for Legacy kicks into high gear in the early months of 2010 and before you know it, the month of December is here and everyone's geared up and ready to see the sequel.

I'm intrigued, my sister's intrigued, my parents don't want to see it (they didn't like the original). I'm monitoring the movie's progress with semi-interest and when the reviews start pouring in, I read both sides of the argument with careful consideration, but figured, given the utter volume that were all saying the same thing ("worth it only to see in IMAX/3D/For the special effects, weak story/performances") I figured that many people couldn't lie and everyone defending it to the death were seeing things through rose colored glasses. That and my mother told me the original was bad so there was no hope for this at all.

"man," I thought. "I wanna see this movie, but everyone says its bad." So were the so-called "Negative Reviews" right about TRON: Legacy? In a nutshell, yeah, they were. Does that mean the movie wasn't enjoyable, though? No, not really.

---- Our story begins with the disembodied voice of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) narrating to his son, Sam, the tale of "The Grid". The digital frontier within our computers/servers that he's seemingly always dreamed of going to (despite being "accidentally" digitalized into it in the original film) and eventually got in. Father and Son fanboy over characters Tron and CLU [2.0] and the tale ends with a mystery that Flynn simply describes as a "Wonderful Miracle". Before he leaves for work, he promises to take Sam with him to the Grid one day. But, as [mis]fortune would have it, that day never comes. Kevin has mysteriously vanished into the ether, leaving his son a practical orphan (his mother died in a car crash in 1985), guardianed by his father's parents. After a moving pictures sequence that wraps parts of the backstory of pre-Legacy up in a nice little package, we flash-forward 27 years into the future. Sam has become the atypical "rebel without a clause", causing a ruckus in his father's fortune 500 company (ENCOM) every now and again for the hell of it, via leaking new-software onto the internet for the public (because it was meant to be FREE and sharable originally) and BASE-jumping off the EMCOM tower.

He goes to jail, gets bailed out and is confronted by Alan Bradley, a mere figure head in the company since Kevin's disappearance, who tells him he got a page from his father's disconnected server at FLYNN'S [Arcade]. Sam is initially uninterested at first, playing the IDGAF-card, but ends up visiting the old arcade anyway. Next you know he's sucked into the Grid (via half-hearted digitalization sequence), but it's not how his father described it. His Doppelganger, ClU [2.0] has enslaved the system under the belief that he has brought true perfection and order to their world. When Sam escapes, he discovers Kevin has been hiding away in the outlands with a unique program named Quorra, contemplating how to bring CLU [2.0] down once and for all. Only, if they do things Kevin's way, it would mean staying within the Grid and letting the portal to the real world close for good. Naturally, thickheaded Sam decides to take the direct approach and well...things don't turn out so good for our heroes. ----

Despite having low expectations in regards to the quality of the film's structure (story wise), I was really disappointed by the execution of it all. I've never seen so much NOTHING happen within the span of two hours. Absolutely nothing significant happens in the movie. At least in the original Tron, there was an objective: "Recover Flynn's stolen idea(s) from the ENCOM system before Dillinger could erase his misdeeds from existence in the real world. Stop the MCP and Sark from taking complete control of the ENCOM mainframe in the computer world."

With Legacy, its "Get into the Grid, Find Dad, Get out of the Grid". That's it. It's subplots concerning the unexplained ISO's and the back-story behind everything that's shown/mentioned in flashbacks (Mrs. Flynn's death, Flynn's sudden erratic/obsessive behavior over his work, the rise and fall of the Grid, the brainwashing of Tron, Alan's suddenly unwavering faith in Flynn*, the rise of CLU [2.0]'s dictatorship, and the creation/demise of the ISO's) are practically a unshot film themselves and provide little or no substance. Legacy is in such a rush to get to the Grid, to the Disc Arena, the Light Cycle races and anything that resembles a fight or a massive special effects scene, that the movie begins to feel like it just wants to be done and over with itself. There's no patience, just rushing. Like the first film, Legacy feels too content to gloss over the things that will make you give a damn about your central character (Sam Flynn, portrayed by Garrett Hedlund) and his quest.

With that said, the special effects in the movie, like the original, are the biggest focus of the production's attention. From the updated (and practical) light-suits, the manner in which characters are derezzed (aka "killed"), to vehicles and THE GRID itself (which is a personal server belonging to Flynn, located in the bowls of his arcade), it's everything TRON couldn't be because of the limitations of the time. Long story short, it's a lovely light show without the ecstasy, acid and alcohol. If I have any complaint it's that the universe feels less like a computer generated world (it's too dark so the only thing your really looking at are the illuminated lines that make up the illusion of physical mass) and more like the world of Blade Runner without the multitude of colors and big screens with Asians selling coca cola.

Jeff Bridge's youthful appearance in the movie is ugly. It's a old, bloated face pressed smooth of it's wrinkles. It doesn't resemble Jeff Bridges' in the late 1980s in any shape or form. At least not in the way it should. The eyes are devoid of emotion, the mouth moves out of sync with his words the skin looks so much like plastic it's not even funny. Those using pitiful argument that he's supposed to look like that because he's a computer program simply need to remember the opening sequence of the film to find themselves debunked. X-Men: The Last Stand and Terminator Salvation (2009)'s attempt at a youthful Patrick Stewart, Ian McKelen and Arnold Schwarzenegger are better entries than this. Even better, all one has to do is remember The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) to see what a de-aged or aged facade looks like done right. Legacy's visual effects team really dropped the ball in that area.

There are plenty homages to the first film, but like any sequel without a true road of it's own to carve, it copies so much of it's processor that it really doesn't bring anything new to the table beyond the updated special effects and Daft Punk (no hoaky electric keyboard music from Wendy Carlos here). Because of this and the title card that simply says "TRON" and not "TRON: Legacy" the majority have come to consider Legacy a "soft reboot" of the original film.

Me? I just call that plain lazy writing and a common problem that occurs in almost every sequel (whatever the medium) that's ever been made. The sequel bait, Cillian Murphy's cameo, Quorra and the "Miracle of the ISO" plot, practically screams that the writer's had written themselves into a corner with a idea that never made much sense to begin with. It's most likely something that will either be poorly explained (and widely accepted) or ignored completely (and pointed out constantly) if Disney gets that coveted greenlight for a Tron 3.

The thing that interested me most in Tron (1982) was Flynn's uncanny ability to manipulate the digital world around him with just a touch and bring dead vehicles back to life or re-energize dying programs. Yes, it could be explained away by simply stating "Well, he's the USER. He can do anything because he technically has complete control over the system he's in", but I would've loved to have seen this sequel expand more on the "how" of it, rather than just exploiting it again and expecting the audience go along with it. That and other things I can't pinpoint without a another viewing of the film.

The characters are more or less present to get you from point A to point B. The same could be said of the performances from the actors, with the exception of maybe Olivia Wilde and Bruce Boxleitner. Sam Flynn, by definition, is a character that could've been interesting in the hands of a more capable actor (maybe). As it stands, Sam is no more interesting than "Anon" from TRON: Evolution. He speaks, he rebels and spits in the face of authority, sure, but it's all hollow. There's no personality or spark of life strong enough to motivate me to care for the Son of Flynn. Garrett Hedlund's linear and doldrum performance leaves me wishing I had a better protagonist (or actor) to root for.

Jeff Bridges is utterly wasted in both his performance as Kevin Flynn and his facsimile, CLU [2.0]. Kevin sits (or walks around) looking morose, spouting pseudo-spiritual nonsense that doesn't sound terribly spiritual or deep. Other times he plays up the "Dude, I'm from the 80s!" persona a little too much. CLU [2.0] struts about, throwing out orders and smiling sinisterly at every little thing, playing computer-Hitler, but whatever potential he had as a villain is utterly squandered by the writers. But, then, I suppose that's no different from Sark via TRON, who spends most of his time glaring at screens, smacking his henchmen to the ground and getting railed on by the MCP. Neither villain amounts to anything, especially not in the final acts of either film. (But at lest Sark got a headshot death.)

And while we're at it, Rinzler (a brained-washed Tron, who is believed to be dead by Flynn and most of the Grid), CLU [2.0]'s right hand man is completely unimpressive. I really expected something with the way people were going on about how "awesome" this character was, but in the end the most Rinzler does is cock his head, mock Darth Vader and strike a pose with his twin Identity Discs like he's in a photoshoot. It's a literal insult to even compare his character/actor to Darth Maul or Ray Park. Tron/Rinzler's body/stunt double, Anis Cheurfa, his movements are so stiff, so utterly lame, that I had to look away from the screen whenever he appeared. It's embarrassing to even think this is supposed to be Tron's villainous alter ego (especially since the body double they chose seems to be of average height verses Boxleitner's 6'2. You can see that much when he stands next to Olivia Wilde who is 5'7'). And their resolution for the character's redemption, their method of having Tron remember who he is again near the final gambit of the movie is just awful. So, yeah, people who say "Tron really isn't in this movie" aren't wrong. He spends most of his time under the lame guise of Rinzler, which is disappointing.

Michael Sheen's Castor/Zuse is another disappointing character entry and one I thought I would like, too. He's supposed to be a two-faced character who'll play both sides to get what he wants, but without prior introduction, it just looks like he sold Sam Flynn out to CLU [2.0] without a second thought. The offhanded comment that he "once believed in users" as a way to validate his scheming ways really doesn't count for anything. The character is made worse when they decide to let Sheen act the fool during a fight scene that has no emotional pay-off until Quorra literally looses an arm.

And while we're on her, out of everybody, Olivia Wilde stands out as the shining performer in this film (but that's not saying much). Quorra's a little like Yori (Cindy's Morgan's character and Tron's lover in the first film), only, instead of a engineer, you get a "Marcile ISO" who's primed for battle. She's a little naive and childlike in her comprehension of most things that aren't a dangerous situation. She's a undeniably cute character. Unfortunately, she is criminally underused in a lot of ways, not unlike Yori. Her chemistry with Hedlund works to great effect more or less because she does most of the emoting. Wilde is the one element of Legacy I expected to dislike the most, but I'm glad I was wrong.

Finally, Bruce Boxleitner's performance as Alan Bradley is rather more or less a non-comment. He's not horrible in any way, he's just there. The most I can say is that I simply enjoyed his presence/performance and the strange way he almost resembles his 32-year-old self near the end of the movie when the adventure is done and over with.

The main attraction for this film is undoubtedly DAFT PUNK's first motion picture score. I don't think I would've given this film a second glance if I hadn't heard they were scoring for it. In retrospect, they were the biggest part of the film's promotion and part of why the movie isn't a complete loss (aside from the ending of the film itself). Their cameo's in the movie are rather comical. They play MP3 programs who switch up the music everytime something happens. The score is quite unlike their albums (Discovery, Homework, Human After All), but there's enough of their sound and the typical orchestral elements --- that seem to hearken back to Don Davis at times --- that you'll be won over immediately. Themes like "Derezzed", "C.L.U.", "Adagio for TRON" and "The Game Has Changed" truly shine among what could be a soundtrack without a single bad single on it.

Overall, if there is anything I can give Legacy any credit for, it's making me give Tron (1982) a second chance, watching it and enjoying it despite the numerous flaws that usually have me going at a movie with a chainsaw or German cooking knife. Other than that, it doesn't live up to it's processor on any level, regardless of whether or not it was actually trying to. It fails simply because there were too many hands in the pot that was providing it's storyline. It introduces ideas and plots that never come to any sort of realization, the characters/actors are props for special effects.

You know there's a problem when the villain's big master plan is to escape into the real world and try to take over the world, Pinky and the Brain style, with a army of programs and big ship that probably wouldn't even fit the screen. As if, man. [A 3 out of 5]

*Yes, I know Alan, Lora and Flynn all become BFFs at the end of Tron, but their relationship never struck me as the kind that would inspire the kind of unshakable faith that Alan displays in Legacy. And if it did, this is something should've gotten a little screentime, otherwise, I'm forever rolling my eyes at this despite my affinity for strong friendships.
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