The ongoing battle between Ten-Year-Old Me and Thirty-Eight-Year-Old Me finds another pitched battleground in TRON: Legacy. I’m pleased to announce that Ten-Year-Old Me has won this round, meaning that Legacy is officially the coolest film in the history of everything, and each of you should go see it eighty gazillion times.
Oh, Thirty-Eight-Year-Old Me has a case to make for those interested in snuffing out all light and joy this holiday season. He originally pointed out that Legacy follows the same shopworn narrative arc as the first TRON, with a clever outsider sucked into a strange world inside the computer. Said outsider travels through a land of sentient programs and artificial vistas created by binary codes, battling in a series of gladiatorial games before escaping and joining a resistance movement to overthrow the computer world’s evil overlord. His name is Sam Flynn (Garret Hedlund), son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) from the original film. Flynn the elder disappeared into the datastream some time ago, and as Flynn the younger discovers, papa has been awfully busy in the interim.
Thirty-Eight-Year-Old Me conceded that the father-son dynamic lends Legacy a slightly new wrinkle, as the two Flynns team up to fight the evil program CLU (also Bridges) and its vision of neo-fascist perfection. However, Thirty-Eight-Year-Old Me contended that the story remains unduly flimsy, with simplistic tropes filling in for genuine drama and an undue emphasis on surface impressions. He also pointed out that Hedlund is rather bland, and that his sharing the stage with Bridges makes it abundantly clear which of the two we’d rather follow around. Perhaps most importantly, he maintained that the film doesn’t have the first idea what to do with its title character (Bruce Boxleitner), who, like the first TRON, acts more as an afterthought than a major player. The more time went on, the more the oversight bugged him.
At that point, Ten-Year-Old Me decked Thirty-Eight-Year-Old Me with an office chair, threw sand in his eyes, and drop-kicked him in the spinal column while screaming “INFIDEL!!!” at the top of his lungs. The debate then reverted to a more impromptu format until Thirty-Eight-Year-Old Me crawled whimpering into a storm drain, promising to be good.
Ten-Year-Old Me’s point? The universe onscreen just takes the breath away. Director Joseph Kosinski and his team have built upon the basic concepts of the original TRON to create a universe unparalleled in its depth and wonder. The famous lightcycles which served as the first film’s signature have become infinitely more elegant, gliding across multi-level playing fields in graceful arcs rather than harsh angles. Yet they remain no less exciting for their imagery, and the sudden crashes and “derezzing” remain just as white knuckle as they did the first time around.
So too does the rest of TRON: Legacy invoke the past while reaching for the future, from the iconic disc duels to those giant floating stompers that periodically menace the hapless inhabitants below. The concept designs feel sleek and intoxicating, aided by music from the celebrated duo Daft Punk (the soundtrack… oh my God the soundtrack!) Even the use of 3D carries a special quality, not only for the way it allows us to revel in the depths of this universe, but in the way Kosinski sets our own mundane world apart with it (“real world” shots are all in 2D).
TRON: Legacy does little to explain the whys and wherefores of its universe, but you can sense its innate rhythm and flow, aiding by terrific performances from Bridges and Michael Sheen (providing a unique riff on Ziggy Stardust). Bridges’ CLU also reveals a lot more personality than the faceless Master Control of the first film, and the slightly off-putting nature of the actor’s computer-generated youth actually enhances the character’s artificial creepiness.
That all is just too much ammo in Ten-Year-Old Me’s corner to deny. The “A” grade at the top of this review reflects not perfection--far from it--but the way TRON: Legacy reminds us of the wonders this medium can bring. To watch it and be receptive to its vision is to understand how movies can show us things we’ve never seen before. It transports us in the same way Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz do. It makes us believe so strongly in its landscape that any questions about dodgy plot holes or thin characterizations simply die on our lips. The flaws are there, if you choose to look for them, but why on Earth would you want to? TRON: Legacy speaks to us on a more primal level: the only level where films like this really count. Leave Thirty-Eight-Year-Old Me at home for this one. He’s just too much of a killjoy.