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The Failed Potential of Tron Legacy (2010)

Tron Legacy movie poster

1982 saw the release of a small yet iconic film called Tron starring Jeff Bridges as software engineer Kevin Flynn as he created and explored the digital world of The Grid. The film was a financial success, making $50 million on a budget of only $17 million. As such, a sequel would be made…three decades later. Now with the cast being much older, it would only make sense to do a film surrounding a new cast with the legacy characters (no pun intended) returning as supporting characters. Thus, giving birth to Tron Legacy.  

After Kevin Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges) suddenly goes missing, his company ENCOM falls into the hands of his board of executives who plan on ripping off college kids with their newest operating system. However Kevin’s son, Sam Flynn (played by Garrett Hedlund), manages to upload the software on the internet for free (much like how Kevin would’ve wanted it to be.) After going to Kevin’s old arcade at the behest of Kevin’s longtime friend and lead programmer Alan, Sam is accidentally sucked into The Grid. Finding out that the world is now under the iron fist of Clu, Kevin’s digital clone tasked with creating the perfect system, Sam is thrust into a series of brutal gladiator games until he is rescued by Quorra (played by Olivia Wilde) who takes him to meet his father.  

The Grid in Tron Legacy

Before I get started with the review, I have a funny story I’d like to share. So, I first came across Tron Legacy when I was fourteen. I was scrolling through channels in a hotel room when the movie caught my eye and I spent most of the night watching it. And believe it or not, I even forgone eating dinner just to watch the movie. However later on, I woke up with an insatiable hunger for any form of food, leading me to spend most of my remaining sleep time eating hotel pizza and muffins. So I guess it’s safe to say that I had a rather memorable first experience with Tron Legacy.

Now I have a confession to make: I have never seen the original Tron film. So why am I reviewing the sequel? Because if a movie is truly good, regardless if it’s a sequel, then it should be able to stand on its own like The Dark Knight and Blade Runner 2049. So how does Tron Legacy stand up? Well, I have some rather mixed opinions (even as a teenager). On one hand, the visuals are absolutely spectacular. Seeing the classic digital world of Tron brought to life using modern day CGI is breathtaking to witness. My favorite bit was seeing the light cycles and light jets form piece by piece from a small handle before springing off into the action. You can tell the VFX team worked their asses off so that we can enjoy every little detail!

Tron Legacy light cycle

But even the best CGI still has its limits. We can create beautiful settings and creatures, but there are some things we are unable to fully get right. For example, people’s faces. And Tron Legacy’s biggest cardinal sin when it came to its effects is digital de-aging. For his portrayal of Clu, Jeff Bridges was made to look thirty years younger. While the effect worked in some scenes (mostly when the camera is not focusing on his face) he looked like he was wearing a rubber mask whenever the film decided to do any close ups on his face. While it’s nowhere near as bad as the Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns, it isn’t much better.

The music was composed by none other than the legendary music duo Daft Punk. Perhaps best known for iconic hits such as “Robot Rock”, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” and “Get Lucky”, Daft Punk combine their typical electronic sound with orchestral strings. The end result? A score that is both minimalistic and epic at the same time, perfectly captivating the world of The Grid, its inhabitants and the further enhances the futuristic cyberpunk aesthetic. Even though their work on Tron Legacy isn’t as well-known as their other hits, the soundtrack is so beautifully scored that it plays in my head every time I imagine a cyberpunk setting. It’s a shame that Daft Punk split up, since we will never get a score this beautiful in a setting like this again.

So with the unique cyberpunk aesthetic, mostly gorgeously rendered CGI and beautifully composed score, what is wrong with the film? Well, Sam Flynn. He is by far one of the blandest protagonists I’ve ever seen in a film. Hell, Sam Flynn even gives the blandest Isekai protagonists a run for their money! What is Isekai? It’s an anime genre where a straight male outsider suddenly drops into a magical world where they immediately become overpowered fighter while being desired by every woman around them. And like almost every Isekai protagonist, Flynn is a troubled young man who is average at everything. Yet when he sinks into the digital world of The Grid, he quickly rivals the best fighter and gets the girl at the end, despite having the personality of a cinder block. I’m telling you, Tron Legacy walked so that Sword Art Online (and every other major Isekai anime that came after) could run.

And then there is Quorra. I admit, I had a crush on her when I first watched the movie, but upon analyzing her character, I see many problems. Much like our protagonist, she also has no personality outside of being a good fighter and looking wide-eyed and innocent. Quorra is an isomorphic algorithm or an “ISO” for short. And as an ISO, she’s described as profoundly naïve and unimaginably wise. What does this description sound like? Well, according to video essayist Pop Culture Detective on YouTube, it sounds like a description of a child. And this trope of a mature looking yet inexperienced woman falling in love with a bland brick of a male protagonist is highly prevalent and troubling in sci-fi movies and shows. Why? Because it normalizes the presence of a significant power gap in a relationship. I understand that the director and writers wanted to adapt the story of Persephone, but considering that this trope is very common and problematic, I really wish that they did something more original with her character.

Sam Flynn and Quorra in Tron Legacy

Although Tron Legacy made $400 million globally on a budget of $170 million, it only made around $40 million in its opening weekend. Despite an astronomical amount of effort put into advertising, the audience of Tron: Legacy was described to be more niche and the movie was catered more to men than women (gee, I wonder why?) Despite this, a sequel was in development set to start filming in 2015 with Hedlund and Wilde reprising their respective roles. But after the failure of Tomorrowland, Disney announced that they weren’t going to continue with the sequel and all development was subsequently put on indefinite hold. However, in 2020, Disney did in fact confirm rumors of a third Tron film, dubbed Tron Ares, was announced with Jared Leto attached to the project set to release in 2025. Am I excited for this film? Well, if the synopsis is anything to go off of, it feels like a retread of James Cameron’s Terminator. Considering that I’m already not a fan of Leto to begin with, I think I’ll be skipping this one.

Tron Legacy had so much potential to offer, yet had so many blunders working against it. Despite its gorgeous CGI, sets and costumes along with its beautifully scored soundtrack, noe of those elements could distract me from its lack of well-written main characters. While Jeff Bridges and Michael Sheen do their best to elevate the material, I really began dozing off whenever I saw Sam Flynn and Quorra. And the fact that the entire movie surrounded them, really hurt its overall quality in my opinion. With the cyberpunk genre experiencing a resurgence with the release of the popular video game Cyberpunk 2077 and its anime prequel Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, Tron Legacy is often forgotten about and for a good reason. With a vanilla cast of new characters and subpar story, Tron Legacy ultimately failed at leaving behind any worthy legacy.

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