Spoiler Level: High. Very, very high. So really, don't even skim over this blog unless you've seen it. Especially you, Rich. Also, I'm going to assume you've seen the movie and won't be doing any exposition at all.
Verrrrrry, very nice. Not perfect, but very good.
I truly did love this movie, and I want to focus on the things I liked, but I can't just ignore the things that I didn't like. So let me get my gripes out of the way first. That way I can end this on a positive note.
So, on with the gripes:
Tron himself is barely in it. Tron's User alter-ego Alan is fairly prominent in the framing sequences in the Real World, but Tron himself is only seen in a flashback, and the big reveal when he becomes himself again at the end is done using only Bruce Boxleitner's voice. Why? After all the build-up that Tron had been turned into Rinzler, I wanted to see him fly up into the air in a glory shot, his mask open up and his lighting switch back to blue, brandish his discs and declare "I fight for the Users." While it's great to see Rinzler turn on Clu and speak his one line with Tron's voice, it's almost anti-climactic. I realize Tron (as a film) was always Flynn's story more than Tron's story anyway, but seeing as how the franchise is named after him, he should have had a stronger presence.
The Computer World is no longer a direct reflection of our computer world. It's a computer world built by Flynn, Tron and Clu. Programs are simply people called programs, and seem to have no connection to their real world Users. The fact that the Programs all wore the faces of their writers was an element I really loved about the original, although I suppose if you wanted it to reflect our world, then Clu's army would have all had the face of Bill Gates. Which would have been amusing, but probably would have just been percieved as an intentional dig. But as I said at the end of my review of the original Tron, I was really curious to see how our computer-dependant world was reflected 30 years later, and this movie doesn't provide that answer. It dodges the issue by giving us a completely isolated virtual reality.
Despite everything being lit up, it's still a darkly lit world. I'm sure it's partly meant to be symbolic of Clu's dark reign, and the fact that there is no sun is an important theme of the movie, but as I commented in my recent review of Tron, it's more a sign of our modern perceptions that "dark is cool and bright and colorful is cheesy." Part of what made the Computer World so amazing in the original was the world itself was so brightly colored.
And really, those are my only complaints. Every thing else I absolutely loved.
So, on with the praises:
Clu. I am so glad I rewatched the original and caught that the original Program that Flynn sent in was named Clu. "That was the best program I ever wrote!" Flynn exclaimed in frustration when it failed and was derezzed. You don't need to know it; this is definitely a second Clu, a Clu 2.0, but knowing that Flynn was continuing on with his original Clu concept just makes it that much cooler. The new Clu continues on with the theme of being the best program Flynn wrote; it's so good, it decides it can run things better.
Not only was I glad to see Clu used as a main character, I can't not mention how amazing Clu is as a visual effect. Seeing Jeff Bridges as both a young and old Flynn was fantastic. It's truly amazing how far computer effects have come in the last 30 years.
And while I griped above that we don't get to see our modern computer age reflected in the Computer World, I would be remiss if I didn't also say that the isolated virtual reality Computer World created here is an interesting one. It starts out as simply a dark virtual reflection of our own streets and buildings, and gets more and more breathtaking as Sam Flynn discovers more of it. The modern takes on The Grid are both visually impressive and totally immersive, sucking you into this new world and one hell of a thrill ride.
The hardware (if you can call it that, since technically even the hardware here is software) is fantastic. The new Recognizers are incredible; they're portrayed with all the grandeur and menace they deserve. The scene where we had three of them flying in to view just totally blew me away. While I still prefer the original light-cycle design, the chase scenes with the new light cycles are great, and upping the ante with light planes is even better. I actually like Clu's command carrier design better than Sark's from the original, and the Solar Sailer here is on a par with the original.
But the best effects in the world won't save a movie with weak characters, and the characters here work great. Sam Flynn and Quorra make great new additions to the cast, but best of all is Kevin Flynn. His attempts to fight Clu have only made Clu stronger, so he's adopted a Zen attitude of looking inside himself for a solution to the problem, which is a logical direction to go since Clu came from inside him in the first place. And the whole dynamic of Kevin Flynn, Sam Flynn and Clu is great to see explored. Kevin Flynn is both the bilogical and virtual father, with Sam Flynn and Clu being both his sons at war with each other. Kevin knows that the only way to truly end the situation is to Reintegrate Clu back into himself, but has never done it; seeing his son again and getting closure with him gives him not only the strength he needs to do it, it also gives him closure with his son so he is able to do it, and something to sacrifice himself for so he wants to do it.
The religious overtones are still there, albeit in a much darker tone; in the original, the concept that we the Users were the creators (and therefore the gods of the Programs) didn't know what we were doing any more than the Programs did, left kind of an amusing tone that if you take that paradigm up another level, maybe all our beliefs about God are wrong, and He doesn't really have a plan and doesn't know what He's doing any more that we do. Here in Tron: Legacy, Clu has been programmed to create the perfect world and thinks he can do it better than Flynn, who is literally the creator of Clu's world. So Clu's goal is to destroy his gods. Craig actually pointed out to me that while we have the Father in Kevin Flynn and the Son in Sam Flynn, we also have the Holy Ghost in Quorra. And the Father (Kevin Flynn) sends his Son and the Holy Ghost (Sam and Quorra) to us in our world, so that Quorra can change our world. Clu is obviously Lucifer, the fallen angel who has decided to rule, although in this case there's no Heaven per se, and he's simply remade the Computer World into his own Hell of Perfection. So is the final battle between Flynn and Clu the Armageddon? The re-integration of Flynn and Clu does wipe out everything we see in the Computer World, but also creates the Computer World's new sun, and by extension a new birth for that realm.
(And speaking of which, I am a little confused; is the entire realm called The Grid, or is The Grid just the city part, or just the gaming part? Because Quorra did say she took Sam off The Grid. That's why I've been calling it The Computer World.)
I have to give props to Daft Punk for a fantastic and incredibly fitting musical score. Just as Wendy Carlos was the perfect pick for the original, Daft Punk was the perfect pick for the modern take. I would have liked to have heard them do their own remix of Wendy Carlos's main theme (a theme that I always thought was way too beautiful to kill Grid Bugs to... and if there was a remix in there, I missed it) but the new themes they made were great in their own right. I also liked that they were guest stars as DJ MP3 programs.
Lastly, there's lots of cute little in-jokes; the use of Journey music since they wrote two songs for the original movie, Dillinger having a son on Encom's Board of Directors, and Flynn's old hand-held 1980's football video game sitting with cobwebs on it in his office. Lots of great tributes that I would have missed if I hadn't just rewatched the original.
All in all, Tron: Legacy is a worthy follow-up to the original, and one I intend to see more than once.