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The 2010 remake of the classic 1982 Disney film Tron was one of the most anticipated films of that year, a return to the unique setting of a living breathing virtual reality inside a computer mainframe. Featuring its original star, Jeff Bridges in the same role, the film was a modest commercial hit that fared an average rating from most critics, the hype surrounding it no doubt hurting much of the expectation. But it is nonetheless a great movie experience that is far more than the sum of its parts. Using spectacular visual effects, including the re-aging of Bridges, the movie might seem like pure eye and ear candy with a driving score from Daft Punk to match the awe-inspiring imagery, but there is a fable-like quality to it all, a commentary on modern society, including our constantly redefining relationship with technology.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski, the story follows a young man named Samuel “Sam” Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), ENCOM’s primary shareholder, the company his father Kevin (Bridges) had once been CEO of until his disappearance twenty-eight years earlier. Hardly involved with the company beyond some yearly pranks, Sam comes upon a large computer in the back of his father’s now closed video arcade, discovering that it is active, when suddenly it transports hims to “the Grid,” the world Kevin created years ago where digitized humans exist in a densely populated cyber world run by Clu, the Grid’s corrupt ruling program.
Upon learning that a ‘user’ is in the system, Clu creates a younger version of Sam’s father to defeat him, but Sam is rescued by Quorra (Olivia Wilde), a specialized female warrior “isomorphic” algorithm who works as an apprentice for Kevin, to whom she takes Sam. Isomorphic algorithms were discovered to be naturally occurring phenomenons outside of Kevin’s creation, something he put Clu and a security program (Tron) in charge of making perfect. While Kevin thought they might be the key to many mysteries in science and religion, Clu thought them an abhorrence and betrayed Flynn. Now Kevin and his son must work together, reunited, to stop Clu before he reaches the real world.
Sam is obviously a little taken aback when he is sucked into the program and finds himself almost immediately arrested, charged, and sent to fight in the “Game,” a large arena where combatants square off in battle … to the death. When Sam bleeds, his ‘user-ness’ aka being from a human source, is revealed and he then thrust into a light cycle duel that takes the original idea of right angles and makes it anything but in a stunning sequence that would seem impossible to do better but goes ahead and does anyway. Say what you will about the story, this movie is ridiculously good looking and packed to the rafter with great style.
At one point in all this, Sam decides to abandon his father’s wishes and heads back to Clu’s territory in order to see a guy named Zuse, who can arrange safe passage through a thing called the I/O Portal, a way through to the other side. Kevin knows it’s dangerous, but Sam feels it’s the only way to stop Clu, so takes off to the tallest tower in the system, to a club called the End of the Line, where the slick but powerful Caster (Michael Sheen) rules over the place like a whacked out Willie Wonka (if that’s even possible), his bright white suit, rooster tail hair, and ever-ingratiating smile a sure sign he’s trouble.
Once inside the place, Sam meets Caster and a revelation is made that changes everything, suddenly pitting Sam and Quorra against a small battalion of black-suited henchmen working for Clu. Chaos erupts while Daft Punk (the actual DJ’s in the club) keep the beat going. The highly-trained guards gain the upper hand and incapacite Quorra, leaving Sam on his own, seemingly to his death, but ah, fear not, for in comes Kevin and oh boy does he shift the balance, resetting the power and basically ending the fight with only a touch. Literally. But not without cost.
There’s a couple of great things happening here, not the least of which is Sheen, who high-steps his way through the whole things like a cabaret dancer with a cane. As is well-documented, he based his performance on the likes of David Bowie and John Hurt, and it shows, though there’s some other influences to be sure. He’s great fun to watch as he lords over the club. His secret, if it really is one, comes at the right time and while it’s not all that surprising, it does provide the importance of futility to Sam’s quest, that all doors seem closed if he runs straight for them. It’s a jarring message.
What’s better about all this though is the arrival of and powerful display of Kevin Flynn. Cloaked like jedi knight, he presses his hand to the floor, his control over the system so immense, he drains the power straight out of the room. This bit of showmanship certainly upsets the balance but it further demonstrates the incredible power that lays within Kevin, something we will see come into play in the finale, but is given introduction here. That’s really important and the filmmakers are smart to include a scene in which we can learn what to expect. This completely modifies everything we know about Flynn, and while we suspect he has some Zen-like gifts, what he does here (and even more so at the end) prove him to be a demi-god in the very world he created.
This moment is a crucial turning point in the film as it solidifies the notion of what Kevin has become in the nearly thirty years of his absence and then proves how vulnerable that power is as the scene takes a dramatic turn at the end, stripping it all away. Twice. It’s a sensational, action moment that has serious undertones, something most fight sequences lack. There’s real concern for Sam, Quorra, and Kevin, and more so for their need to win. We are floored by Flynn’s power and then shocked by what happens in the aftermath. It’s great storytelling.