Directed by Joseph Kosinski
I have a confession to make. I’ve never watched the original Tron from beginning to end. Sure, like everyone else I’ve seen bits and pieces on TV. I saw the part with the frisbee and the light cycles. And I remember it had David Warner, one of those great British actors who always appear in the shittiest movies. But I could never sit through the entire thing. It was boring, the special effects looked dated, and I just don’t care that much about the “infinite possibilities” of cyberspace. So why did I watch Tron Legacy? Because it was on Netflix streaming and I had nothing better to do. Spoilers below…
Tron was about a programmer named Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) who accidentally transported himself into a computer-generated universe. Once there, he was forced to compete in gladiatorial games for the amusement of a race of sentient programs (a.k.a. humans in silly costumes). He eventually teamed up with the local Spartacus, the titular Tron, and together they overthrew the despotic government.
Tron Legacy picks things up just a few years later. Flynn’s divides his time between raising his son, Sam, and building a better world in his computer. To help him manage the latter task, Flynn creates a virtual doppelganger of himself named Clu (Jeff Bridges with digitally younger face). Everything seems to be going well until the digital universe spontaneously creates a new race of sentient programs, the isomorphic algorithms (ISOs). Flynn sees them as a miracle, but Clu considers them an aberration that will ruin his utopia. So Clu seizes control of the digital universe, kills nearly all the ISOs, and leaves Flynn stranded as a fugitive unable to return to his son.
Jeff Bridges as Clu
Flashforward several years. Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is a computer genius like his father, but he’s spoiled and directionless. While he inherited ownership of his father’s company, Encom, Sam would rather ride his cool Ducati than run a business. So he leaves it’s management to boring suits who rip off consumers with overpriced products. Of course Sam has major daddy issues, which leads him to investigate what happened to his father. One thing leads to another, and Sam is transported to the digital universe where he’s quickly arrested and forced to compete in the gladiatorial games (with updated special effects!). Sam is eventually rescued by Quorra (Olivia Wilde), the last surviving ISO who was raised by Flynn. Father and son are reunited again, there is much awkward bonding, and they team up to defeat Clu and escape the virtual universe.
Along the way, Flynn essentially gives Quorra to his son because she has some techno-fairy magical nonsense that will revolutionize everything and Sam has to bring her into the real world. Quorra is presumably content with being a tool that the Flynn boys will use to save mankind. I say “presumably” because the filmmakers care little about her motivations (beyond trite shit like wanting to see a sunrise). When Sam returns to the real world, he takes over management of Encom and vows to change the company. So were left with the warm feeling that Sam will use his billions of dollars and techno-magical girlfriend to fix our planet.
As popcorn entertainment, Tron Legacy is about average. The special effects are mostly well done, the soundtrack by Daft Punk is great, and attractive women in skin-tight outfits is never a bad thing. On the other hand, the film treats women as mere appendages to men, most of the characters are dull, the plot drags in the middle, and the visual design is lazy. Apparently the inside of a computer looks just like a modern city, but with superfluous running lights everywhere.
To the extent that Tron Legacy moves beyond popcorn and deals with actual ideas, it embraces one core idea above all others: social progress through technological progress. And no other character embodies this idea better than Quorra. She isn’t important as a person. She’s the embodiment for every technological innovation that will usher in the next golden age. She’s a personal computer, a smartphone, the Internet, an iPad, and a cappuccino machine all wrapped up in the body of Olivia Wilde. She will usher in a revolution! But what kind of revolution will it be?
It’s clearly not a Marxist or anarchist revolution. Hardly surprising, given that Disney isn’t in the habit of producing films that advocate the dissolution of mega-corporations like Disney. It isn’t a populist revolution, as the common folk hardly factor into the film. The closest thing to Joe Schmoe is the race of sentient programs in the digital universe, and they’re a decadent, slavish lot. It isn’t a New Agey, “back-to-nature” revolution either. Sam doesn’t give away his fortune or move to a commune. He starts and ends the movie as a billionaire.
But he’s the good kind of billionaire. Good billionaires don’t care about silly things like profitability or market share. They use their wealth (which they undoubtedly earned through hard work and intellect) to fix our world’s problems. And they occasionally beat up criminals too.
So the revolution that Quorra brings is not a revolution of wealth distribution or weath creation, but a “revolution” of wealth investment. The problem with the rich people at the beginning of the film isn’t that they’re rich, but that they only care about becoming slightly richer. Rich people should care about saving the world, preferably by inventing some new technology that fixes all our problems (including the problems created by the last new technology). The rest of us can just sit back and enjoy our gadgets, comfortable in the knowledge that our benevolent overlords and their techno-magic girlfriends have everything well in hand.