TRON Legacy is out today, and even if it doesn’t live up to the insane levels of hype that have preceded the release – really, what can? – it’s still a fun sci-fi yarn filled with dazzling special effects and Jeff Bridges acting like a hippie Jedi. The latter alone is worth the price of admission.
Really, the biggest shortcoming of TRON Legacy is how confusing the story can be. Many years have passed in the fictional world since TRON came out in 1982, and even those who know that first movie beat-for-beat are going to struggle to keep up at times. To help you prepare, Spinoff Online went right to the source and asked director Joe Kosinski himself the all-important question: what should the average moviegoer know about Legacy before walking into the movie?
“Well I think they need to pay attention, that's for certain,” Kosinski said when we spoke to him this week. “There's a lot of information in this movie for people who know nothing about the universe [to digest]. We tried to present it in the clearest manner. In the first 10 minutes of the film, you should hopefully get everything you need to know.”
He’s got a point about the first 10 minutes – light spoiler alert – as the film opens with Jeff Bridges’ Kevin Flynn, in digital youngface, relating to his son Sam the basic gist of the original story. It’s a clever bit of in-your-face exposition, and the fact that it’s being told to a 7-year-old means that it really gets broken down to the simplest terms. Still, we weren’t letting Kosinski off the hook so easily. A detailed answer was asked for, and he was more than happy to comply.
“I guess the key points are: Kevin Flynn was a computer visionary of the 1980s who was exploring the idea of this alternate universe that existed within a computer,” the director explained. “One day in 1989 he mysteriously vanished, leaving behind a 7-year-old boy – his son – whose mother passed away [prior to the events of the movie]. So [Kevin] basically left him alone.”
“Now in 2010 that young boy has grown up to be a young man named Sam Flynn and he receives a key piece of information that leads him on a journey to go find his father,” Kosinski continued. “That's the crux of the story, but I would just recommend you hit the restroom before the movie starts because you're not gonna want to miss anything.”
That is indeed the setup for TRON Legacy, but there’s one important point that Kosinski failed to mention: bridging the two movies together is the story presented in the video game TRON Evolution, which released earlier this month. You can read all about the game and the challenges of introducing transmedia elements into a franchise like this in Katie Calautti’s excellent deep-dive interview with Disney Interactive development director John Vignocchi. So while Kosinski certainly gave us the setup for Legacy, he didn’t get into the backstory that helps inform, and is frequently referenced by, the story in the film.
Be warned readers, there are spoilers ahead for the game. The rest of this article runs through a very rough synopsis of the game’s narrative. It is meant to serve as a primer for those who haven’t or won’t play the game before seeing the movie, but who want to go in armed with as much knowledge as possible. The only Legacy spoilers you’ll find in the below text relate to backstory elements that you learn as the film unfolds.
TRON Evolution details the events that led to Kevin Flynn becoming trapped inside The Grid. A new race of beings has emerged in The Grid, ISOs (Isomorphic Algorithms). Their existence plays a vital role in the events that lead up to what you see in Legacy, but they are only briefed touched on in the movie, a very clunky chunk of exposition that pops up late in the film.
Basically, one of the leaders of these ISOs dies under mysterious circumstances and Flynn suspects an older program he created, Clu, to be behind the murder. A sideline character that only appears in a single scene from the original film, Clu is the primary antagonist in TRON Legacy, the “young Jeff Bridges” character you’ve surely seen by now in trailers. Suspicious of his creation, Flynn creates a new program, Anon, the character you play as, to keep a watch on things. Along the way Anon meets Quorra, one of the key characters in Legacy, played by Olivia Wilde.
Without spoiling too much of the game beyond that, it turns out that Clu has plans for taking over The Grid. A major component in Clu’s plan involves the ISOs. Equipped with free will, these new beings are a threat to his planned leadership over the Programs — a threat that needs to be dealt with.
In the aftermath of his successful plan, Quorra stows away aboard Clu’s ship. He captures her and Anon arrives to stage a rescue. He pulls it off and escapes with Quorra to the Outland, where their stolen ship crashes. The heroic Programs derezzes while Flynn and Quorra remain in exile, safely beyond Clu’s reach but also stuck in their little corner of The Grid.
Stuck, that is, until a young man named Sam Flynn arrives to (hopefully) save the day…
TRON Legacy is currently playing in theaters nationwide.