On face value, Tron: Legacy represents a near-paradox in the whole movie vs. game department. The original Tron was a movie based on the premise that the world on the other side of the video game screen is actually real, and then they released a video game version of the movie, which is based on several events in the film. Including the grid bugs, which were seen onscreen for about a millisecond, just so they could appear substantially in the video game.
Tron went on to become a box office flop, but flowered into a towering altar for all geekdom to worship at. After all, this movie was aimed squarely at the nerds, and while it didn't connect at the box office, it punched tech-heads right in the solar plexus. It went on to spawn several video game sequels while attaining a legendary status as one of the ultimate geek movies. Now, Disney wants to harness that magic at the source. But this time, they're spending a trillion dollars on the marketing and advertising. In fact, the amount of money spent feeding this cast and crew probably dwarfed the $17 million dollar budget of the original.
More importantly to us gamers, the actual Tron arcade game from 1982 is in the new movie. In the world of Tron, Kevin Flynn exited the Game Grid, then went on to create our game. Speaking of games, the new Tron: Evolution video game is meant to bridge the gap between the first film and this one. Which means that besides a movie sequel, the original Tron spawned: Tron, Discs of Tron, Tron: Deadly Discs, Tron Amaze-A-Tron, Tron Solar Sailer, Tron 2.0, Tron 2.0 Killer App, and the two new games Tron: Evolution and Tron: Evolution - Battle Grids.
Has your brain exploded yet? It will. Check out our Tron: Legacy review, which was written with gaming goggles on. Heed this warning: there be spoilers ahead.
The Main Players
If TRON: Legacy were a video game, these are the characters you'd encounter. And oh how I wish it was a game, since even though most critics are saying it has a weak story, it's better than what we're handed in TRON: Evolution.
CLU - The Villain
TRON: Legacy picks up several years after the first movie ended, with Kevin Flynn as the motorcycle-driving, one-step-away-from-hippie CEO of ENCOM, the company he took control of following the events of the original flick and the exoneration of his name. Now he's doing double-duty as CEO/Dad during the daytime, and working secretly in the Grid at night. Only his son knows about the secret world behind the screen, and in there Flynn has created a digital replica of himself named CLU, or Codified Likeness Utility, in order to help out with all the work there is to do as Flynn builds an entirely new system. Actually he's more like a CLU 2.0, since the original CLU was derezzed in TRON.
Trouble is, this is supposed to be Jeff Bridges circa 1989-ish. These days, the real Jeff Bridges looks a lot more like The Dude from The Big Lebowski. So, director Joseph Kosinski fabricated a new Flynn using the digital paintbrush of CGI. If you've seen how far computer generated human likenesses have come in the recent L.A. Noire video, then you know how impressive this can be. Impressive ... and creepy. The uncanny valley yawns open below your feet as you watch this younger version of Jeff Bridges throughout the movie, and at times it is unreal how realistic he looks. While at other times, not so much.
Flynn, CLU, and TRON are working together to build an entirely new system following the fall of the Master Control Program, and that's when something goes wrong. The night Kevin tells his son Sam about the Grid, he vanishes without a trace.
Sam Flynn - The Hero
Cut to the present day, where 27-year old Sam Flynn is a rambunctious renegade, who lives life on the back of a motorcycle and holes up in a cargo container, despite being the largest shareholder at ENCOM. His dad has been missing for years, his mother and grandparents have passed away. Alan Bradley, played excellently by Bruce Boxleitner, serves as an uneasy father figure to Sam, a role that seems like it has never fully taken root for either of them. Sam stays far away from the company, preferring to play a practical joke on them once a year while avoiding any responsibility, recalling the playboy image of Bruce Wayne in the recent Batman reboots.
Despite his flinty exterior, Sam still harbors hope that his father is alive out there somewhere. So when Bradley visits him after his latest stunt to tell him that he got a page from his father's old office about the arcade, Sam is intrigued enough to check things out. There, cleverly hidden behind the old TRON arcade game, he finds dad's old computer, still humming and running. As he tries to hack into the system, an all-too-familiar laser powers up behind him, and he's zapped directly into the Grid.
Once inside, he wonders to find that the stories his father told him were true, and he's quickly dumped into the Games, much like his father was in the first film. Disoriented at first, he quickly excels in the games, playing highly updated versions of disc battles and light cycle racing, which is where the CGI in this movie first makes your jaw drop: when you see a light cycle rez around a character for the first time. It's truly a beautiful thing to behold, and it'll make you wish that you had one. Sam, of course, searches for his father while trying to make sense of this new world. Just as he's about to become yesterday's pixels in a cycle match, he's rescued by ...
Quorra - The Young Upstart
Quorra represents an anomaly in the Grid. She's a program that wasn't written by a User, and was instead born purely out of the Grid. This strikes an imbalance in CLU's head, as he's supposed to be creating a perfect system per Flynn, so she and every one of her kind represent a glitch. Despite his creator Flynn embracing the new beings, CLU snaps and decides that Flynn and his boy TRON are both sort of the problem. He dispatches TRON while Flynn narrowly escapes, and he witnesses CLU enacting genocide upon all the new programs, or Isos - isomorphic algorithms. Flynn goes into hiding, and it's there that he takes Quorra under his wing after finding her needing help as the sole survivor.
Since she's a program, Quorra doesn't age. As a result, her near-apparent age of 27 is about how old Sam Flynn is, making them your instant romantic interest in the film. Olivia Wilde was told to play her as a sort of Joan of Arc character, but she's a bit more like Amelie with balls. She's devilishly cute with her pixie haircut, and she can be coy, cute, or tough as nails. She's frequently guarding Sam like a pit bull, knowing that he's the most important thing to his father / her savior.
While Quorra definitely knows the Grid, she also seems very wide-eyed and new to everything, like someone who was home-schooled for 30 years and then suddenly told, "Okay, now go mix with society." If this really were a game, you'd have to choose whether you wanted to play through the game as Sam Flynn or Quorra, giving you both male and female choices.
Kevin Flynn - The Wise Patriach
Jeff Bridges channels Zen and Lebowski throughout this movie, and there are lines that will make you swear that Walter Sobchak will walk on screen at any moment to bowl a frame. Not that that's a bad thing, because who doesn't love them some Lebowski? But beyond that, Flynn is also an Obi-Wan Kenobi figure of sorts and the power he wields in the Grid is like a digital version of the Force at times. He's become a hermit, living far off of the Grid to avoid detection by CLU, and his sanctuary is an austere, spartan fortress with everything rendered in white, glass, or chrome. It's like the Sharper Image made an entire apartment and Jeff Bridges bought it to live in.
This Jeff Bridges is the counterpoint to young Jeff Bridges, and he's much more world-weary. He's spent years living inside the Grid without much contact with anyone other than Quorra, and this makes him seem a bit off his rocker. Granted, Flynn was already a bit tweaked in the first film, but let us just say that the intervening years have not been kind. He's not a drooling, mind-wiped husk, but it's a road that has probably not been too distant on the horizon at some point. How long can you live in a hopeless situation before you start to lose it?
By necessity, Flynn hasn't been able to interact with the Grid, as CLU will know when he does, and the portal that he used to enter the Grid, aka the laser in the real world, can only be opened from the outside. Once opened, it remains open for about eight hours, before closing again. This sets the ticking clock in motion for the events of the movie. Also, programs from Grid-side can't go through the portal, but CLU has found a way to do it using Flynn's identity disc ... which is why he so badly wants to find him. Our world represents a whole new system to "perfect."
If this were going the game route, you would have to alternatively seek advice and training from Flynn as Quorra and/or Sam, and additionally protect him while going on fetch quests. Which means you would be working for The Dude. Fred Tatasciore does a good job mimicking the hippie-dippy Bridges person in this film in Tron: Evolution, but if this was a game, we would want it straight from Bridges' mouth.
There are a slew of secondary characters in TRON: Legacy that you would encounter as NPCs throughout the experience if it were a game. While they might be skins that would be available to you in multiplayer, you would only be interacting with them, or doing battle against them, in the story mode.
Alan Bradley / TRON
The other major problem I have here is that this really needed to be called FLYNN: Legacy, because TRON is hardly in it. You get some good upfront screen time with Alan Bradley at the beginning of the movie, but he's so good that you'll be missing him the rest of the time. Couple that with the fact that you barely see a CGI version of young TRON for a few minutes, and you're missing both Alan and TRON, the namesake of the entire series.
Boxleitner really excels in the role, which is why more of him would have been a good thing. Thankfully he lent his voice to both Battle Grids and Evolution (and Tron 2.0 back in the day), so it is highly likely that he would reprise either or both roles in a video game. Bradley would again play your father figure inside the game, and depending on when the opening of the game is set, or if you could have playable flashbacks, you could encounter (or control) TRON in the past.
One of the problems I had with this film was this bit of stunt casting: Cillian Murphy plays Edward Dillinger, son of Dillinger from TRON. It's obvious that Edward will be back in the sequel, if there is one, in a substantial role. Here, he's barely seen on-screen. He seems to be the whiz-kid heir apparent, which is a role Sam Flynn also fills. Look for them to go head-to-head is Dillinger discovers the Grid and tries to make it his in the next film.
Murphy is a great actor as we've all seen in movies like 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Inception. So to use him for about three minutes of screen time is a crime, and too much of a poker tell for your next story.
You would only bump into Dillinger in the real world, so chances are he would be a peripheral a character in the game as he is in the movie. Which is to say: very.
Rinzler is CLU's brooding, seething right-hand agent of destruction. When there's a program that needs running down or a game contest who needs to be bit-blasted, Rinzler is sent in. He excels at both hand-to-hand and vehicular combat, and he's mute behind a helmet that covers his entire face. But, Rinzler holds a very dark secret that while poorly executed in the movie, would be a fitting climactic moment for a video game.
He's also the best fighter in the game, and he needs to be used more in that aspect. Remember how badass Darth Maul was? Yet suddenly he was gone at the end of the first Star Wars movie and never spoke? Don't use Rinzler like that. He has this guttural, digital hissing sound that is always emanating from him, and it's pretty darn cool. Make him one of the final bosses after running into him time after time.
Castor / Zuse
Michael Sheehan has played Tony Blair in three different films and appeared in numerous other movies. In TRON: Legacy, he plays Castor, the over-the-top, effeminate owner of the "End of Line" club. Styled heavily after David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, complete with the mark on his forehead, he spends his time wheeling and dealing with people who need favors from Zuse, a veteran of the Games.
What most people don't know is that Castor really is Zuse, a fact he uses to hide behind while conniving to get the best deal. He really vamps it up here, providing comic relief and a brief Daft Punk interaction in his club as he tells them to change the music.
As an older denizen of the Grid, Zuse would be a perfect quest giver, while the "End of Line" could serve as a satellite home base where you come to purchase items, heal up, and make connections.
When Sam first appears in the Grid, he's picked up by a Recognizer and assigned to the Games by a guard. He's soon dumped into a super-futuristic wardrobe area, where four "sirens" materialize from the walls and cut his clothes off with laser fingers. He's soon clad in a skintight TRON-esque suit, and given his own identity disc. He makes a brief connection with the white-haired gal of the bunch before they retreat back into their digital sarcophagi.
Later, he encounters this girl again, and she tells him that she can help him find Zuse. She takes him to the "End of Line," where he discovers that her name is Gem.
Gem is curvy, sexy, and very mysterious. Having a dark character in the game who seems to be on the fence between both sides in the conflict would be a wonderful plot device to use in the game.
Every good villain needs a comic henchman, and that's why CLU has Jarvis. Played by James Frain who played the ultra-creepy Franklin in True Blood, Jarvis is a even creepier, bald-headed sycophant who leers at women, brown-noses CLU in the extreme, and wears a bizarre plastic shield over his head. When he's not sucking up to CLU, he's busy polishing his tongue for more boot licking, and make you throw up in your mouth a little bit.
Games need these laughter-inducing henchman was well, otherwise CLU would just seem like Hitler, digitized. Jarvis would probably spearhead most of CLU's attacks against you, and he's the voice you'd hear taunting you during attacks or begging for mercy during combat.
The Games on the Grid
TRON is all about the Game Grid, which is supposed to be the world on the other side of the screen. But, there are all sorts of programs mingling there: accounting programs, actuarial programs, and so on. In TRON: Legacy, the games are still there, with CLU running things instead of Sark and the Master Control Program, but they definitely don't seem as central to the story. Sam engages in several quick disc-battles when he's first dropped into the games, and then he's pitted against CLU, Rinzler, and some other red-colored bad guys in a light cycle duel.
Otherwise, that's it for games in this film. There are no Recognizer chase sequences, no tank battles, and no Jai Alai / Hyperball. There is a frenetic, enjoyable, high-speed chase involving light jets, which would make a killer game level (the jets leave light-trails just like the cycles do), but I found myself wanting more. Light cycles, disc-battles, and dogfighting alone don't offer up enough variety to build a game around. Especially when the light cycles in this movie don't turn at 90 degrees like the did in TRON. That sequence in the original films was so iconic, why would you leave that out?
The other gameplay elements offered up in the film are plenty of stealth, as Sam and Kevin avoid CLU, shake off Rinzler, sneak about CLU's carrier, and travel in a light runner (almost a four-wheeled light cycle with side-by-side seating) and a new version of the Solar Sailer. There are a couple of hacking sequences from Kevin that would make for interesting gameplay design, and Black Guard units with paraglider-type airfoils that let you glide short distances through the air. Toss in the larger light jet and the smaller light fighters, and you've nearly got yourself a game.
If you've been keeping up with TRON: Legacy then you probably know that it's been getting mixed reviews. Mostly they claim that the story is weak, that the movie is all flashy bright lights and shiny things with a wafer-thin plot. Granted, some of that is true. I can't deny that after the first time I saw this, I wasn't talking to myself and saying, "But ... but ... but ... what about this! And that? And this?!" I had a lot of problems with unresolved or unaddressed things: Where's Lora / Yoni? What happened to Dillinger Sr.? Who is Sam's mom? Why didn't Kevin ever tell Alan about the Game Grid? Where was Bit? Why isn't Tron in this damn movie more?"
But the second time I saw it, I realized that I was doing the same thing I did when I saw it the first time: white knuckling the armrests, holding on for an awesome ride. Yes, the movie is like a shiny new toy that you can't wait to play with, and one that will eventually lose its luster. But I'll be damned if that luster isn't really put all over this thing in extremely thick layers. TRON: Legacy is a gloriously spectacular visual thrill ride that delivers Space Mountain levels of adrenalin. Yes, I would normally punch someone in the face if they told me the effects in a movie made them get over story elements. But in this case, it's more than true.
However, that being said, if this were a video game, I would make some sweeping changes. Starting with putting Sam Flynn behind the controls of a Recognizer, and having him find Bit. Then they go on a wacky adventure together, LucasArts game-style. Okay, not really. But, I would take the bare bones of this story and overhaul it into a different arrangement, and then turn the player loose as Quorra or Sam: Sam starting in the real world, and Quorra starting on the Grid. The initial goal for both of them is to find Kevin Flynn, then after that they work together to take down CLU. You could play solo, with the computer playing Quorra or Sam, or you could co-op through the game, teaming up for pixelated justice. Just a thought.
In the meantime, don't listen to the haters, and go see TRON: Legacy. Just make sure that your seat belt is tightly fastened, and you aren't susceptible to seizures.