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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tron Legacy in IMAX 3D



"Tron, look what's become of you!" utters Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) late in Tron Legacy. Become what? Entertaining? Inclusive? Visually awe-inspiring? Fun? Those must be what The Dude means. Freely borrowing - and I mean a lot - from Star Wars, Blade Runner, The Matrix, and Lord of the Rings, among other nerdy affectations, Tron Legacy reassembles those disparate parts into a feature length Disney thrill ride, leaving audiences basking in the bright, shiny colors and warm, glowing, warming glow of The Grid.

The original Tron was something I've never gotten into, or even been able to sit through. Tron Legacy requires no previous knowledge of Tron, instead adopting the only aspects of the original that are remembered fondly - the aesthetic, weapons, vehicles, and the basic idea of creating and living in a computer-generated virtual world - and then plugging it all into a familiar action adventure about a son searching for his missing father. They become freedom fighters in an astoundingly-realized, visually sumptuous virtual world of The Grid.  There's nothing regarding Tron Legacy's story we haven't seen before, but it's a sound, easily digested story. While it's executed simply in Tron Legacy, it's also executed well. The actors also worked their magic to enliven and overcome the deficiencies in Legacy's screenplay.

The real world at the start of Tron Legacy, where Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) executes corporate espionage on his own company and gives away a billion-dollar computer code on the Internet before parachuting off a skyscraper, getting arrested, and then is free to walk the streets again that very night, felt considerably more implausible then everything that happens in The Grid.  Once his father's old friend Bruce Boxleitner gives Sam a kick in the ass to drop by the old Flynn's Arcade to discover Kevin Flynn's secret workshop (the Journey and Eurythmics songs were amusing 1980s touches) and Sam gets reconstructed into the virtual world of The Grid, Tron Legacy actually starts making a lot more sense.

Once in The Grid that he'd heard all about since he was a boy, Hedlund discovers his father's computer-generated doppelganger Clu (also Jeff Bridges, CGI making him look much younger and robust - the king of the Uncanny Valley) rules over The Grid with an iron fist. Clu has designs to take his Clone Army - sorry, his army of Programs - into the real world to conquer all of us Users.  After surviving video game-like light disc and lightcycle battles, Hedlund is whisked away to meet his father by Quorra (Olivia Wilde), Kevin Flynn's sleek and cheerful "apprentice."  Father and son reunited, Hedlund, Bridges, and Wilde set off to stop Clu's nefarious scheme and return Hedlund to the real world.

Bridges seems to be having a ball in his multiple roles as old Kevin Flynn, young Kevin Flynn in flashback, and Clu. The computer generated imagery that transformed Bridges into a virtual version of himself 25 years younger is off-putting at first but suits the creepy, villainous Clu. As old Kevin Flynn, Bridges zones in and out from wise zen master to chilled-out California hippie. Sometimes, he's just being The Dude, man.  He's gotta listen to the sky, don't harsh his zen. Kevin Flynn abides. Kevin Flynn loves his son dearly, even when Sam screws up his mojo and pisses him off, like when Sam steals his vintage original light cycle and gives it to a random Program on the street.  When Clu finally meets his maker at the conclusion, Bridges suddenly widens his eyes and turns into Gandalf.  Bridges is great when he quips with himself; Clu and Flynn have the funniest exchange in the movie:

Clu: "Flynn! The cycles have not been kind."
Flynn: "Oh, you don't look so bad."

That's harsh, man.  

As Quorra, Wilde is destined to be the cyber pin-up girl of a million nerds' office cubicles for a generation.  Quorra is as if Trinity from The Matrix wasn't so stern and actually had a sense of humor. Clad in her sleek, skin-tight, glowing catsuit, Wilde is radiant and formidable in a light disc fight, but innocent. She's well-read in classic books but thinks Sam knows Jules Verne personally. Mainly, Wilde is about as awesome a virtual girlfriend who follows Sam back into the real world as a guy could ask for.  It seemed to me like Kevin Flynn, expecting his grown son to come to The Grid one day, was saving Quorra for Sam. What a great dad he is, man.

Quorra has a big secret that's not really so groundbreaking - she is the last of the self-sentient Programs that came into being when Flynn created the Grid before her kind were wiped out by the Purge when Clu took power.  Like Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and even Aaron Ralston in 127 Hours, Quorra gets her arm cut off, but she grows hers back lickety-split thanks to Kevin Flynn's fancy coding through her life disc, or whatever, man.

Though every person Sam Flynn meets in The Grid can't wait to tell him whatever their backstory is and drone on about whatever exposition needed to be explained to get to the next action sequence, there were still a lot of unanswered questions about life in The Grid.  For one, where do the Users living in The Grid get their food?  The cyber city Clu controls and the harsh mountainous terrain Kevin Flynn built his classy hippie commune in didn't really illuminate where crops and meat grow. Where did that enormous suckling pig on the Flynns' dinner table come from, and why weren't they eating it? (Maybe it was a virtual pig.)

Pleasant surprises among the cast are Cillian Murphy, who pops up in one scene at the beginning as a smug programmer, and Michael Sheen, as Zuse, the most flamboyant Program in The Grid, prancing around his nightclub in his white glowy robe and slicked back white hair.  Sheen is a lofty actor in serious roles (Frost/Nixon and The Queen, for instance), but cast him in a sci-fi or fantasy picture like Tron and he goes balls-out, scenery-chewing, batshit ballistic.

Tron Legacy's knockout one-two punches are its eye and ear candy.  Light discs fights, light cycle chases, and light jet dogfights all thrill as they should.  Who wouldn't want to just leap into the air and have a glowing colored light vehicle instantly materialize around them?  Eye candy galore also takes place with the sexy ladies who slink around The Grid, such as Beau Garrett as Gem, a techno-dreamgirl who fills out a skin-tight white jumpsuit even better than Padme Amidala. Smallville fans could blink and miss Zatanna herself, Serinda Swann, as "Siren #2".  Meanwhile, the pulse-pounding techno score by Daft Punk is one of the best of the year, occasionally invoking the regal symphonies of Vangelis' Blade Runner, and rivaling the amazing score of The Social Network by Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch.

There is also a Tron in Tron Legacy. Tron was, apparently, a character in the original Tron, and was one of the three architects of Tron Legacy's Grid, along with the two Jeff Bridges. Tron gets corrupted by Clu when he conquered The Grid, which turned him into a helmeted automaton with no dialogue.  But Tron does have Legacy's most hilarious moment, a trademark Mr. Burns "unpredictable change of heart", at the end when he decides to save the Flynns and Quorra for no reason.  Oh, that Tron. I'm sure everyone in The Grid will always remember his name.

I particularly enjoyed the final scene of Legacy. Heldlund has returned from The Grid and informs Bruce Boxleitner that he's taking back his father's company. Then he jumps on his motorcycle with a very real Wilde straddled behind him and they ride off together. They ride through the cities, into the forests and mountains so Wilde can see her first sunrise, which she'd always dreamed of in The Grid. It's a pleasing moment which argues persuasively for the beauty of our real world over The Grid or anything computer-generated. Take that, Avatar freaks who want to live on Pandora!