There is nothing like coming up with a sequel to a movie that had been made nearly two decades previously. It is something that Hollywood has been turning to increasingly because it seems like they are running out of ideas. Hey! Art is hard and every once in a while, you need to take it easy in order to keep earning millions of dollars. Thus, we get to Tron: Legacy (2010), the sequel to the cult classic (why do we use the word “cult” to describe the select group of people dedicated to a certain film?) that was Tron (1982).
Unlike its 1980s predecessor, Tron: Legacy picks up with introducing the relationship between Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges, who also plays Clu) and his son Sam (younger version played by Owen Best, older one played by Garrett Hedlund). Kevin Flynn tells his son about the wonders of the Grid, the digital world that he was building inside a computer. If you are unfamiliar with what goes on in Tron films, humans have the ability to enter the data jungle where people are programs and cityscapes are lined with the glow of electric lights that make it look like a reasonable facsimile of real life, though without the warm light of the sun. Shortly after describing it to Sam, Kevin disappears into the utopia he is creating. Several years later, the grown-up Sam is visited by Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner, who also plays Tron), Kevin’s old associate who tells the younger Flynn that he had been paged by the elder Flynn. This prompts Sam to go to Kevin’s old arcade where he finds his way into an underground office and, after a few keyboard punches, he is on the Grid. Initially Sam is captured and brought to Clu, who is the spitting image of his father. As it turns out, Clu is a program split from Kevin himself, and has taken over the utopia Kevin made and has designs on leading a digital army out to take over the real world. Sam is rescued by Quorra (Olivia Wilde), an ISO (a computer-generated lifeform, essentially) and protégé to Kevin. Quorra takes Sam to Kevin and after a heart-felt catching up, Sam urges that they take a run at making it back to the portal through which Sam entered. Once back in the real world, they can end Clu’s plans with a few keystrokes. Overcoming a number of adventurous obstacles along the way, Quorra and the Flynns (band name, I called it!) get to the portal where Kevin sacrifices himself by re-integrating Clu in order for Sam and Quorra to escape.
Unlike the 1982 iteration that focuses on the threat machines pose to humanity, Tron: Legacy is more interested in the impossibility achieving perfection. Of course, Clu, like the Master Control Program (MCP) before, has designs on world conquest. Nonetheless, the sequel is much more philosophical in its approach. When Kevin began to construct his flawless computer paradise, he thought that by doing so he could improve the “human condition.” The fly in the ointment was Clu. In summing up the program’s desire for conquest beyond the data streams, Kevin ruminates on how imperfect is our society. Clu was created to help build the perfect system, so after conquering the virtual reality it was time to move on to the real one. The climax of the film features Kevin and Clu confronting each other over this very issue. Clu basically complains to his creator that he has made the ultimate system. Kevin sagely admonishes him that perfection is something unknowable, although it is staring us in the face all the time. Put differently, perfection is not something outside of ourselves, on a societal level. When you try to achieve such a thing so broadly, it ends up causing pain and suffering. Instead, Kevin’s perfection was in his son and the love that they had for each other. As a Catholic, I find a great deal of solace in this message. Only God is perfect, as is the love that He has for every one of us. We are called to emulate that love as much as possible. But neither can it be forced. God’s love makes no demands on the other, it does not require your obedience, it just is, much like the love between a child and parent.
Despite the great message in the film, Tron: Legacy is not without its warts. The main thing is the way the portal between the real and computer worlds, and time, works. When Sam first appears on the Grid, it is in a digital representation of his father arcade office. Yet getting back through involves a long trek between the city and the exit. But it is never really explained why you enter in one place but leave in another. Also, the clocks between the Grid and the outside are supposedly moving at different speeds. This is confirmed when they talk about how there was a finite amount of time before the portal to go home closed. So, time is slower on the Grid, and yet Kevin seems to have aged at a pace you might expect of any normal person. Still, one thing I want to commend the film for is the music. I would not have thought anyone at Disney had heard of Daft Punk, but the industrial, techno sound they brought to the movie really helped with creating the right atmosphere. Finally, if you ever get a chance to see this in 3-D, I highly recommend it. Typically, I do not enjoy this format, but when I first saw Tron: Legacy I was struck by how slick it looked in 3-D.
I recommend Tron: Legacy to any audience. There is violence in it, but it is brief and somewhat cartoony. As I mentioned, the central message of not chasing after perfection is an important one and what makes the film work. There is some basis for the ideas presented in Eastern religions and philosophies, but I am all for taking an ecumenical look at such things as I discussed above. Christianity preaches peace, and that is what the characters strive for in this movie.