Let me just start out by admitting that Tron: Legacy is one of the most entertaining geeky sci-fi films I’ve seen this year and is sure to fill theaters for months to come.
The film follows Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), son of Kevin Flynn ( Jeff Bridges) from the original Tron. Twenty years have passed, and Sam still wonders what happened to his dad, who vanished while he was a boy. He stumbles into Kevin’s research lab and is promptly pulled into the computer-based world of the Grid. Sam finds his father hiding out in the wastelands beyond the main Grid with a beautiful young woman, Quorra (Olivia Wilde). Kevin has become a monk, meditating and talking about finding his zen-like center rather than fighting the evil CLU (a digitally mapped, younger Jeff Bridges).
The story is one of journeys traveled, risks taken and challenges overcome, as we’d hope with any epic adventure. That it primarily takes place within the digital realm of the Grid gives the production team complete freedom, and it’s an amazing, compelling world. The Grid is also a dark, Orwellian world where storm troopers march in lockstep, “derezing” apps that seek freedom or think for themselves.
There are depths to Tron: Legacy that I never expected, and the revision of the original story from the banal video game trinket of Tron to the backstory of the new movie was a splendid step. I really dug Tron: Legacy, loved its countless references to other sci-fi films, and found it far more enjoyable and engaging than Avatar, a similarly sweeping sci-fi epic.
Remakes are a tricky business, as Hollywood has learned. Whether it’s a foreign film (La Femme Nikita) or a science fiction classic (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), it’s difficult to both be true to the original work and create a contemporary story that resonates with modern viewers.
It gets even more challenging when the source material wasn’t a great film, just a cult classic. Yes, this means that the remake of the Rocky Horror Picture Show is going to be awful. Tron falls into that same category: it wasn’t very successful when released in 1982, and it’s better known for its groundbreaking — now dated — visual effects than any sort of story.
One of my favorite aspects of Tron: Legacy was the multitude of science fiction film references woven throughout, from opening exterior shots right out of Blade Runner to an apartment that reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey to Quorra, who looked like she was the twin of Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) from The Fifth Element.
Castor (Michael Sheen) is the delightfully flamboyant nightclub owner who holds the key to Sam and Quorra finding their way out of the Grid, even as he’s looking out for his own best interests. His techno nightclub, however, is reminiscent of the club in another iconic sci-fi film, The Matrix.
Tron: Legacy is a rarity in modern cinema, a film that works both as a purely visual experience and as a film exploring deeply religious topics — there are many obvious nods to Judeo-Christian mythology — and a son’s journey to understand and build a meaningful relationship with his father. It’s terrific, and I’ll see it again in the theater and then again when it’s available on Blu-ray.