TRON Tuesdays are continuing whether you like it or not! Last week we looked at the movie that started it all, and I mentioned that the original TRON didn’t do so great in theaters – but it did gain a bit of a cult following which kept it from fading into obscurity the way The Black Hole did.
Now, Disney is notorious for not leaving any of their properties alone; I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of all those sequels they made for their animated classics. That said, TRON came out during the so-called “dark age” of Disney, so they were much less likely to dust it off and trot it back out like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. This makes the appearance of TRON: Legacy and the resulting expanded TRONiverse a couple decades later that much more surprising. Can it be that they’re finally going to do more with their “dark age” properties? I mean, they were making noises about a remake of the aforementioned The Black Hole a little while ago.
Please do something with Return to Oz, please do something with Return to Oz…
Now, before we go on: no, I did not forget TRON 2.0. Yes, I’m covering the sequel that stole a bunch of its elements then rendered it non-canon first. Why? Because I’m not doing this series in chronological order – real-world or otherwise. I’m covering things in the order that people are most likely to be aware of them – starting with the movies, then moving all the way down to fan fiction. (Oh yes indeed, programs, I’m covering the fan fiction. I’ll explain my reasons when we get there.)
Are you ready for a much darker and grittier TRON film? Then let’s get started!
So what’s it about?
Remember lovable goofball slacker hacker Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges)? Well, it turns out finding out that he’s basically a god inside computers kind of changed him, and he’s been secretly hard at work on his own digital world on a computer in his arcade’s basement. Meanwhile in the real world, he got married and had a son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund). (The wife then died, because we can’t go having more than two major women characters in a TRON film; it’s a scientific fact that men are unable to keep track of more than two women characters at a time.) But then, Kevin Flynn suddenly disappears without a trace, sending ENCOM and his family into chaos.
Twenty years later Sam has become a troubled, thrill-seeking young adult with no direction in life. After pulling his annual major prank on ENCOM – his only involvement in the company as majority shareholder – Sam encounters his surrogate father Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), who says he got a mysterious page from Kevin’s arcade, which has been closed for years. Sam goes to investigate and promptly gets sucked inside Kevin Flynn’s computer, where he was building his secret digital world.
Still with me? Good, because this is where it gets complicated!
In the intervening twenty years (1000 years or “cycles” in computer-time) Kevin Flynn’s digital utopia, the Grid, has become a dystopic hellscape. Sam is immediately captured and sent into the games arena, where he’s forced to disc-fight anthropomorphized computer programs until he encounters the mysterious and powerful warrior Rinzler (Anis Cheurfa), who identifies him as a User. Sam is brought before the one running the games, who – gasp! – appears to be his father.
After messing with Sam’s head for a couple minutes, the character reveals himself to be CLU (digitally de-aged Jeff Bridges), the program running the Grid. Sam demands to know where his father is, but CLU instead drags him to another arena and tries to kill him in a lightcycle match. The match is interrupted by a masked figure in a four-wheeled lightrunner who bursts into the arena and rescues Sam. The masked figure reveals herself to be a computer program named Quorra (Olivia Wilde), who takes him to a hideout deep in the untamed Outlands of the Grid, where Sam is reunited with his father, Kevin Flynn.
Kevin Flynn reveals what happened via flashback: after building the Grid with the help of CLU and Tron (Bruce Boxleitner), Flynn encountered the ISOs, a race of digital humanoid lifeforms who “manifested” on the Grid without his involvement whatsoever. Flynn became fixated on the ISOs and their potential (they are super super super special, for reasons) and began neglecting the rest of the Grid. CLU, believing that the ISOs are getting in the way of the purpose Flynn gave him – to “create the perfect system” – attacked Flynn and Tron.
Flynn fled and went into hiding after being trapped inside the computer, while Tron was killed in the attack. CLU took over the Grid and killed almost all of the ISOs (Quorra, we later learn, is the last surviving one) and subjected the Grid to his brutal, dictatorial rule for 1000 cycles. Flynn has watched helplessly from the sidelines because if CLU got Flynn’s identity disc he could escape into the real world. Also, taking down CLU would kill Flynn, for reasons.
Flynn tells Sam to stay with him where it’s safe, but Sam leaves so he can escape the computer and delete CLU from the outside. He seeks help from one of Quorra’s friends, Zuse (Michael Sheen), who immediately betrays him. Sam is saved by Quorra and Flynn, but Quorra is gravely injured and Flynn loses his disc in the process. Flynn, Sam, and Quorra escape on a solar sailer, Flynn repairs Quorra and apologizes to Sam for neglecting him in favor of the Grid, and Quorra and Sam fall in love (I think?), for reasons.
The solar sailer takes them to CLU’s ship, where he has amassed an army of brainwashed programs to enter the portal to the real world, which was reopened when Sam first arrived. Quorra lets herself be captured by Rinzler so Sam and Flynn can recover Flynn’s disc, and Flynn realizes that Rinzler is actually Tron, who was apparently captured and brainwashed by CLU.
Sam recovers Flynn’s disc and rescues Quorra, Flynn hijacks a lightjet, and they all make a break for the portal. CLU and Rinzler/Tron pursue them, then Rinzler/Tron finally overcomes his brainwashing and attacks CLU. They struggle, and CLU continues his pursuit of Flynn & co. while Rinzler/Tron plunges into the Sea of Simulation. CLU somehow manages to get to the portal before Flynn, Sam, and Quorra, and he confronts them. Flynn apologizes to CLU for telling him to pursue perfection when perfection is unknowable, but CLU refuses to listen and tries to get to the portal. Sam and Quorra escape through the portal with Flynn’s disc, then Flynn and CLU fuse together and explode, destroying the ship and everyone on it. Back in the real world, Sam transfers the Grid data to a portable drive and shuts off the computer, then he and Quorra ride off into the sunrise.
How does it fit in with everything else?
Hoo boy, did the TRONiverse get complicated after this. TRON: Legacy rewrote the TRON canon to take the place of TRON 2.0, spawning a whole bunch of other media set in the Grid – a TV show, video games, comic book, etc. – and serves as the hub for everything that came out with or after it. Without TRON: Legacy there basically wouldn’t be much of a greater TRONiverse at all, and the TRON series would have been limited to just the first film and a handful of video games, the vast majority of which had no story to speak of.
Why should I care?
I can understand why a fair number of TRON fans don’t like TRON: Legacy – it’s extremely different from the first film in almost every aspect including tone (“You want a heroic adventure inside a computer? Fuck you, we’re giving you computer genocide instead.”), it’s got an overly complicated plot, and it’s just really dark. Not just tonally dark, but visually dark – it’s darker than Dark City, and that takes place entirely at night and has the word “dark” in the title, for crying out loud. I know they want to emphasize the light lines as much as possible but seriously, calm down guys; if we were able to see the light lines in the original TRON then we’ll be able to see them now.
That all said, TRON: Legacy has a lot going for it. For one thing, the amazing soundtrack courtesy of Daft Punk. The original TRON‘s score was great too (it’s almost impossible to go wrong with Wendy Carlos), but TRON: Legacy‘s soundtrack is extremely energetic and present, and the songs are just as good to listen to outside the film as inside.
And don’t even get me started on the aesthetic – it’s a true testament to the talent of the designers that they were able to make something so radically different from the original film yet still have it be recognizably TRON. This aesthetic, too, seems to have influenced quite a few outside designs in the years since.
The shots in the film are well-composed too, more so than the average action film is really required to be. I took almost two dozen screenshots in the hope that I could include them in this post just because they looked so cool.
And while the story is complicated it does address some really interesting themes and ideas – too many to list here – and the characters in general have more depth than they do in the original film. Overall, though it was clearly marketed to older and younger fans alike, TRON: Legacy is the more complex and “adult” of the two films. TRON: Legacy is a good film on its own and is also, in my opinion, a worthy sequel to the original film, building well on its characters and concepts.
Well, this post has already reached twice the length of my previous one, so I’ll cut my yammering short. Next time we’ll be looking at the excellent animated “interquel” series, TRON: Uprising, thus beginning our plunge into the messy timeline Disney set up for all of TRON: Legacy‘s tie-in media.
Until then, here’s a YouTube Poop.
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