Guilty Pleasures: Tron Legacy

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Joseph Kosinki’s second sci-fi film Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise, seems to be cementing his dubious reputation as a soulless director of empty, derivative spectacle. I disagree, and would like to take this opportunity to defend his enjoyable debut feature cyber-calling card, Tron Legacy.

Admittedly, Tron: Legacy is a film of two halves. After going all out to entertain and thrill for the first half, the pace flags and familiar tropes take over. However, the film’s message of a legacy, passed on from father to son to ensure nature and technology coexist, (and also Flynn’s redemption) is nevetheless plainly and effectively laid out. Sam can either repeat his father’s mistakes, or learn from them.

Visually (and aurally), the film is gorgeous, even before the Wizard Of Oz like 3D reveal on entering The Grid. From the moment a Tronified Disney Castle appears and Daft Punk’s brooding score kicks in, first time Director Joe Kosinski has his audience (well, me!) hooked.

Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) is the archetypal angry young man with daddy issues. Dad Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) has long since disappeared, and Sam gets his kicks sabotaging his old firm Encom’s latest software releases, yet is not willing to step up and run his inheritance, according to his dad’s ideals. He investigates a mysterious page from Flynn’s long closed arcade after being alerted by Flynn’s old pal (and kind of watchful Ben Kenobi figure to Sam) Alan Bradley (the great Bruce Boxleitner): he was the computer world’s Tron in the first film 20 odd years ago. On uncovering Flynn’s hidden office, he’s zapped into the virtual world that has imprisoned Flynn for so long, and a race is on to save him and prevent his program alter ego Clu from expanding his reign of terror to the real world.

Kosinski has wisely utilised his architectural background and a great design team to create a menacing, yet coldly beautiful world of glittering surfaces and striking lights, the 3D drawing the viewer in to this darkly seductive world. Neon-ribbed warriors battle to death / de-rezz in massive gladiatorial arenas in re-treads of disc wars and light cycle races. The ribbons of light from the cycles are mesmerising. Destroyed bikes melt into a molten pool, splashing across the obsidian like racetrack. Vehicles and warriors spin and flip from one surface to the next, then Quorra (Olivia Wilde) crashes the party. She rescues Sam to take him for an emotional reunion with Flynn, hiding in exile off Grid. His creation Clu has taken his programming too literally, eradicating “imperfections” in a wave of ethnic cleansing.

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Bridges as Flynn and the younger looking Clu is excellent, on the one hand a frustrated exile (“You’re messing with my zen, man!”), and as the rejected Lucifer figure Clu, who is pretty convincing in his interaction with other characters, only really failing to work in the climactic confrontation. It would have wise also to avoid revealing the younger Flynn’s face full on in the earlier scenes in the real world, as any hint of an “uncanny valley” make sense in a “digital copy”.

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Quorra is the heart of the film, a quirky, innocent yet deadly warrior, who has learned all she can about our world from Flynn. When told by Sam he “knows” Jules Verne, her favourite author, she earnestly asks “What’s he like?”. Refreshingly, she doesn’t become the love interest, but is more surrogate daughter / step sister. She is the last of the “ISOs” – Isomorphic Algorithms that evolved unplanned from the isolated digital domain Flynn created in secret, with the assistance of Clu and Tron. As well as being a plot device that Flynn believes can be an evolutionary step in the development of humankind, (“Biodigital jazz, man!”) they allude to a philosophical idea.

In the book Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter, he suggests that Isomorphisms could be behind all human meaning, as they act as the link between symbols and real world objects. He states, “In my opinion, in fact, the key element in answering the question “What is consciousness?” will be the unravelling of the nature of the “isomorphism” which underlies meaning.”  Flynn believes the ISO’s biodigital DNA can be harnessed in the real world to the betterment of humankind. Clu believes they are an unknowable force, that cannot be tolerated in a “perfect” system, hence his program to wipe them out, and to lure Sam in to find Flynn, retrieve his identity disc and use it to escape the portal and carry on his programming in our world – to create, if you like, a world without sin.

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Qorra’s name is pronounced Khora (core-ah). Khora in ancient Greek represents wildness, untamed nature. She is truly an off-grid creature, a perfect protector for Flynn, hiding in the hills. Wilde based her portrayal on Joan of Arc – the young naive, androgynous warrior, haunted by visions or dreams of the creator (Users). Flynn is frustrated because Clu has fed off his resistance, becoming stronger. This older Flynn cannot battle against change, the failure of his modern dream, and has retreated to meditation. As a young man he fought the system, now he is the system. The perfection he sought all along was that of human love and devotion for his son, human growth, not engineering . It takes the reemergence of Sam in his life to shake him out of his torpor.

Sam is sent by Qorra to meet Castor (Michael Sheen), owner and “fixer” of the End Of Line club, in the hope he can help them escape. Sheen is great, a mix of early Bowie and the emcee from Cabaret, a seemingly charming yet creepy program who plays all the angles. Clu’s lackey Jasper is another marvellously obsequious creation, holding a book at (virtual) arms length when Clu and the gang gatecrash Flynn’s 2001 a-like pad.

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It’s around this point, after a brilliant face off in the club between our heroes and Clu’s heavies, that Flynn intervenes, the drop of his hand on the floor stopping the D.J’s (Daft Punk) music, before a different track and energy pulse through the room. I love this scene and this moment – to me it recalls Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal video.  After their aerial escape the films energy starts to flag, however the themes still resonate beneath. Flynn must  accept his mistakes and embrace Clu(cifer), absorb his darkside to give Sam and Qorra  their time in the sun (something she has dreamed of seeing). 

A cameo by Cillian Murphy in the Encom board room as the son of Tron’s bad guy Dillinger hints at another round in the digital world next film. Disappointingly, Clu’s right hand warrior Rinzler is never physically unmasked as the corrupted Tron, as Boxleitner was signed on late to the film and presumably the film makers didn’t have time to de-age him like they did Bridges for Clu.

Tron Legacy is ravishing, with Daft Punk’s superlative score inextricably linked to the mood and pacing of each scene. Kosinki, like Kubrick, seems to have an innate sense of how to marry music to visuals. Although there is much to admire in its world and themes, the film falls frustratingly short of classic status. Stronger writing and pacing in the second half would have improved matters immeasurably.

 

Originally posted 2013-04-23 15:15:45. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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