Summary: A successful, slick, satisfying sequel, creatively and thematically progressive.
Review: What good does a cinematic sequel do, besides line filmmaker pockets? A good sequel moves the story forward, finds the meaning in the original’s premise and expounds on it, taking it that one step further that would’ve been too much for the first installment. It should find new extremes. It should dare to alter the status quo.
‘Tron: Legacy’ is a fun and fantastic sequel because it does all of those things. ‘Tron’ let the CGI cat out of the bag, in terms of world design and action, while its sequel shows us how far that cat can run, and the tiger doesn’t show signs of wearying. To simply call ‘Tron: Legacy’ a feast for the eyes would be saying too little, but it’s awfully hard to do justice to the extent of cinematographic innovation on show here. There’s an exhilarating solidity to this world. The action sequences are full of surprises, which hit hard and fast and demand repeat viewings. The downside of this level of visual innovation is that it may occasionally be too dizzying for some audience members. It’s almost too fresh. ‘Tron: Legacy’ is designed as immersive as possible, and as a result, we share the character’s disorientation with gravity changes, high-speed lightcycle races, and digital dogfights. It showcases the best of postmodern style while skillfully avoiding problematic techniques like “intensified continuity”, that is, cinematography and editing akin to the ‘Bourne’ pictures. Like James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’, the camera is free to fly through virtual space and take us anywhere.
The story is surprisingly good, even an improvement on the original ‘Tron’, taking it several natural steps forward. While ‘Tron’ had the villainous MCP, whose motives were purely power-lust, ‘Tron: Legacy’ has CLU, the mirror image of his creator, who believes so strongly in his purpose — to make the virtual world perfect — that he rebels against his user to this end. Kevin Flynn’s quest to create the perfect world was a mistake. Continuing a train of thought from the original, Flynn accidentally creates a new life-form, an aberration in the Grid’s programming called ISOs, and this “perfect imperfection” provokes CLU’s revolt. Humans, Flynn comes to realize, have no idea what perfection really is, and by putting this yoke on his creation he caused his own downfall. He’s trapped in the digital world and separated from his son.
Sam Flynn, in his father’s absence, grows up just as reckless as Kevin in the original ‘Tron’, and arguably does not share his father’s illusions. His quest isn’t for perfection, but for the relationship he lost. A key thematic component is Kevin’s insistence that his beloved son is perfect, despite all moral evidence to the contrary, and this ties into the ISOs; life is beyond logic, beyond control, and beyond measurement.
To CLU, the ISOs are a critical flaw, and so he commits genocide and kills them all, save one rescued by Kevin, a girl named Quorra. She demonstrates an intense curiosity about the physical world, reading whatever books that Kevin transported into the Grid, hoping one day to see the real sun. To her, our world is just as awe-inspiring and transformative as the virtual world is to us. Her character is positively endearing.
Perhaps the only eyebrow-raising story component is the use of the Tron character, who was basically a plot device in the first film and here plays a minor role as CLU’s champion gladiator, having been converted against his will in the coup. His arc is short, but satisfying still. The ‘Tron’ series has, ironically, never been about Tron. It’s Flynn’s movie.
I’d be loathe not to mention the marvelous score by Daft Punk. Here, listen to this. End of line.
‘Tron: Legacy’ checked all the boxes on my list of things I’d like to see in a ‘Tron’ sequel. As if I had such a thing. It’s a satisfying trip that does far more than drill for nostalgia fuel. It succeeds where most other long-awaited sequels fail, even entries in noted franchises like ‘Star Wars’, ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Terminator’. Despite its title, it’s not overly concerned with ‘Tron’s legacy, but rather telling a good story well.