Tron: Legacy, hittin' the streets on DVD and bluray yesterday, was supposed to be a coup of geekery. A sequel no one really wanted but diehard fans of a box office flop from 1982; it got made anyway -- and against all odds, it looked like awesome 3D geeknip. Jeff Bridges was back and young due to advanced entertainment technologies, lightcycles did badass jumps, and the trailer had a strong case of the Inceptionbooms.
Imagine our surprise when it was a lazy, turgid piece of shit. And when it turned out Tron: Legacy was not just a sequel, but a remake -- and like most, it was not as good as the film that inspired it: The Phantom Menace.
The Phantom Menace, or Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace: 3D: I Waited Twenty Years for This and Now There's Nothing Left For Me, is also a turgid piece of shit. The only excuse for its existence is that George Lucas got bored one day, decided to check out some Star Wars fanfiction on the newly budding internet, and in his righteous anger mapped out every element he hated from every story he read. He placed it in his Darth Vader Trapper Keeper, neatly labeled "The Phantom Menace," and ran off to do his weekly jowl exercises. And later, when it came time to write the script for Episode 1, he grabbed the wrong fucking trapper keeper.
Or he's a hack that got lucky in his first couple movies and had a circle of friends and colleagues (Steven Spielburg, Francis Ford Coppola, Irving Kirshner) that kept his worst instincts in check until they were too tired to care or dead, thus unleashing the unexpurgated Lucas into the world, clad in flannel, filled with power (Some call it The Prequel Trilogy/Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, others call it proof of an uncaring and unjust universe).
TPM is a better film than T:L, which is so bad it makes a strong case that the terrorists are winning and we should allow them to do so. It's barely a movie. 2010 saw the release of the awful Cop Out, The Last Airbender, Grown Ups and Furry Vengeance, to name a few, but these movies are either calculated cash grabs by known cash grabbers, or the result of untalented people. Tron: Legacy separates itself from the pack through sheer force of cynical will -- there's a stench of "We got the lightcycles, the disks, The Dude, that's all the nerds'll care about anyway." In all of the other awful films of 2010, as well as in Episode 1, you get the feeling that at least SOMEONE was at least TRYING.
But that's how remakes go. For every remake that's superior or equal to the source material (Ocean's 11, The Departed, The Maltese Falcon, The Thing, Scarface), there's a million that aren't (Halloween, The Bad News Bears, which I totally forgot was remade, Gone in 60 Seconds, The Fast and The Furious, also known as I Guess You Haven't Seen Point Break Then). Nevertheless, because it's notable for a truly awful movie to be remade into a truly even awfuler movie, we examined in a ridiculous amount of detail and in several categories what went horribly, horribly wrong.
Warning: The following contains spoilers for Tron: Legacy. If these spoilers are the only thing that keep you from enjoying the movie, shame on you.
Commonalities: Fatherless, whiny heroes played by awful actors, both geniuses from an early age that like motorcycles and technology. Both possess magical powers that they don't know how to use without the help of a bearded father-figure mentor, who teaches them nothing.
Tron: Legacy: The hero of T:L is Sam Flynn, played by Garrett Hedlund, who went to the Keanu Reeves school of acting and consistently cut the classes "Charisma 101" and "Intro to Likeability." For a while I thought the film was being meta and cast an actual computer program to play one of the characters until I realized no one could write a randomizing algorithm that could mimic faux bedhead so effectively.
Sam was abandoned by his father, Kevin Flynn, when he was accidentally sucked into a bowling-simulation computer game with the final object being the recovery of his stolen area rug. Sam grew up quite surly because of his father's absence, despite being a white, hugely wealthy genius with male-model looks raised by his loving grandparents, who he lived with anyway (ain't that just like a workaholic dad). Eventually he started sitting on motorcycles and then jumping motorcycles and then base-jumping onto motorcycles from motorcycles, which demonstrates his angst. He uses his hacking and motorcycle skills to commit acts of electronic terrorism against Encom, the company he owns, because he doesn't feel ready to rock the CEO pos-ish, meaning either he's stupid or the script is. I'm gonna hedge my bets and go with both.
He's a selfish, whiny, immature douchebag with grand illusions of complexity, most easily summed up when he tells the Encom security guard chasing him to stop chasing him, because he owns the company, then basejumps off Encom Tower to escape the security guard that's chasing him. Like Kevin Flynn, he's a User, so inside the computer world (the Grid), he has special powers that he doesn't know how to use and thus we never see, which is good, because if Garrett Hedlund has to express something other than mild confusion, his face gets all pruny like his fingers when he's been in the bath too long.
Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace:Jake Lloyd plays Anakin Skywalker. He seems like a nice kid, but he's the worst child actor in history. He's so awful that his performance was the worst part of this movie and Jingle All the Way. His performance was worst part of Jingle All the Way. Was the Fanning cloning factory not fully-operational then? Can it only churn out female models? The kid from Shane was like Marlon Brando compared to this kid.
Anakin Skywalker, or Ani, isn't much better. He's an annoying and whiny mama's boy with a bad bowlcut and glimpses of a cruel streak. A slave on the planet of Tattooine, Ani also has no father, but he's not so much of a wuss about it. He's a slave, but seems to genuinely enjoy being one until someone asks him about being a slave. A genius with computers and machinery and a Force-sensitive, Skywalker spends most of his time working on and practicing in his podracer (as a teen he'll be played by Hayden Christenson, who's been a good actor in at least one non-Star Wars movie. More than likely he watched Lloyd's performance in TPM and attempted to adopt his way of speaking and emoting to preserve that oh-so-precious canon continuity. As a teen he will also continually ride Star Wars' version of a motorcycle).
Look, Jake Lloyd was like 9 years old when he made this, so he has that excuse. I'm sure he's better now (he's not better now).
Winner: TPM's hero grows up to be Darth Vader. TPM.
Commonalities: Both plots are so simple they become convoluted. While the surface elements aren't necessarily the same, the through-line of the main character is: A young hero is brought into a wondrous world he doesn't fully understand through the power of a powerful bearded father-figure (who is unknowingly being manipulated by the bad guy), where he meets a mysterious and engaging young woman who's special in some way. He then excels in battle thanks to natural talent (somebody's been reading some Joseph Campbell), climaxing in an aerial dogfight.
Tron: Legacy: Kevin Flynn got stuck in the computer world when his creation, the evil program Clu, took over the Grid, killed the warrior Tron, and sent Flynn into exile. He then sets about to genocidin', hunting down and destroying the ISOs, a race of artificial intelligence programs that spontaneously appear as a consequence of the Grid's existence/rules. They are very important.
Twenty years later, Clu pretends to be Flynn to get Sam to laser transport into the computer, opening the portal to the outside world as well as forcing Kevin Flynn to reveal himself and his juicy identity disc, which is important. Why are these things important? We're told they are. What are the ISOs, and why can their "DNA" lead to advancements in curing diseases/teleportation/robotics? We don't know, and because we're told they can. Why does Clu need The Creator's identity disc? Because we're told he does.
Sam and Kevin need to get to the portal to the real world before it closes in eight hours as well as stop Clu from amassing a program army and entering Vancouver, or wherever they shot this. Why they're worried about him doing this, I don't know. If he and his thousand-strong army enter our world with his lil' mission of ethnic cleansing, what we'll end up with is a thousand dudes in stupid jumpsuits who've never seen the sun or driven a real car/motorcycle (one that doesn't create a light wall behind it) stuffed into an abandoned arcade, threatening all of society with their amazing frisbee skills. Hitler was able to get a bunch of people to think genocide was a good idea through his impressive use of fucking insane rhetoric. Clu couldn't inspire anyone to eat a slice of pizza, and everyone loves pizza.
The Creator Flynn sacrifices himself to stop Clu and save his son, and Sam escapes with the last of the ISOs, a female program named Quorra that loves to giggle and whose core desire is a good tan.
Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace: The Trade Federation, in response to an unfair taxation on trade routes, blockades the peaceful planet of Naboo. They end up in league with the ultimate evil politician and Dick Chaney model Darth Sidious, who convinces the Federation to invade the planet and kill everyone, including two Jedi - Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi who were sent to negotiate and are now caught in the crossfire.
The Federation invades, but the Jedi manage to escape with the elected Queen (what?) Amidala, who's fourteen years old (how does a fourteen year old run an election? And who voted for her? What was her platform? Unicorns and talking on the phone? Do you think Amidala is Team Jacob, or Edward? I'll bet Edward, she seems to go for the broody, pale dudes). Their ship is damaged and they have to land on Tattooine, where they meet Anakin Skywalker, future Jedi messiah. He uses his podracing skills to fix their ship (if you don't understand this, think of a little boy underdog break dancing in a local contest to get the money to save the rec center), so they take him with them back to Naboo, with a quick stop to yell at an ineffectual Galactic congress. Because the place for a little kid with no combat skills is the middle of a war zone. On the way he hits on his teenage babysitter. She will end up marrying him. Gross. He steals a ship and kills every bad guy in one fell swoop.
The Jedi fight Sidious' henchman -- Darth Maul (he's too sensitive for Darth Kill, plus it's tacky), and the bearded father-figure sacrifices himself. Maul ends up cut in half. The kid gets a better haircut and starts learning to kill people with his mind. He will later attempt to kill all of the Jedi using the training and weapons they gave him. Anakin Skywalker is the mujahideen of Star Wars.
Winner: TPM doesn't just make up objectives and tell us they're important expecting us to believe it. It's stupid, but devoid of super-obvious plotholes. TPM.
THE ONE SCENE CAMEO
Tron: Legacy: Cillian Murphy in a vest.
Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace: Sam Jackson. He does not yell. It does not matter.
Commonalities: Colons, which are awesome. Their awesomeness is objective truth.
Tron: Legacy: Tron is a character from the original movie. He is (mostly) not in this movie. Nor is there any expression of his legacy, beyond Jeff Bridges missing him a lot in a way that's slightly homoerotic -- not that there's anything wrong with that.
Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace: The movie is about war among the stars. The Episode One part lets us know the war is just starting -- someone is about to use a ray gun to assassinate Cosmonaut Franz Ferdinand and there's gonna be some trade sanctions and shit. Also: there is a menace of some sort, and it is ghostly or unseen.
There are hella colons.
THE FEMALE LEAD
Commonalities: Young, hot (buzz-wise, not looks wise. But looks wise too) actress looking to involve herself in a marketable franchise, bringing way too much charisma, beauty and class to a role of dubious quality. Alternates between powerful, skillful heroine and damsel-in-distress as the script calls for it. The hero's potential future love interest. Hiding a secret about her identity. Wears a stupid outfit.
Tron: Legacy: Olivia Wilde could've played Quorra as a silent badass, Flynn's super-smart bodyguard with a secret hidden layer of creativity/a desire to learn all she can. Instead she goes the opposite way, making Quorra bizarrely sincere and openly curious and excited about, well, everything. She's Tron's version of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, an adrenaline junkie who woohoos her way through action sequences and listens with wide-eyed and rapt attention to Sam's description of the sun (It's bright and warm). Olivia Wilde is too good for this movie. Quorra is too.
Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace: 2011 Academy Award winner Natalie Portman. Like the Black Swan, she's two people: Queen Amidala and her handmaiden, Padme, who doesn't have to wear stupid headdresses, or stupid makeup. Her outfits still suck, though.
She most definitely doesn't have any kind of sex scene with her double (Keira Knightly!) in this flick (she's underage here. Related: You're sick).
Winner: Living anime character Quorra is too damn fun to watch. She's the best part of Tron: Legacy. And she rallies from an amputation, so she's a certified BAMF. Sorry, Natalie, but you're definitely not the best part of Star Wars. And you fall in love with a nine year old boy. And later it makes you die of heartbreak. Quorra ain't gonna die of no heartbreak, homie.
T:L takes this round.
Commonalities: Beards. Classically skilled older actor slumming it in material way beneath his skill set, for reasons unbeknownst to us. They probably include money, fun, or the idea that they owe something to the franchise. Both are extremely powerful zen master kinda cats.
Tron: Legacy: A few hundred years stuck in a computer/tiny loft with a girl who's giddy and excited about everything all the time would make you kind of eccentric. I'm not so sure it'd turn you into the Dude, which is how Bridges plays the part. A strange choice, considering the Oscar-havin' Jeff Bridges is more than capable of not playing Mr. Lebowski (see: True Grit). Carried over from the original Tron is the idea that Users have special powers in the Grid, and Flynn, being the creator, is the most powerful User there is. Unfortunately, he seems to forget he has these powers, especially when he most needs them. The only thing more stupid than Yoda jumping around with a lightsaber is him doing absolutely nothing
Flynn pops out his powers to do what the script needs him to do at any given moment, including creating some kind of badass psychic power energy vortex that he uses to destroy Clu and . . . kill himself. Wait, what? Dude has superpowers that he uses to kill himself? That's like Superman using his heat vision to change granite on a molecular level into Kryptonite so that he can use it to stop a robot Superman that's also vulnerable to Kryptonite and killing himself in the process. Just punch the fucking thing. Punch it 'til it breaks.
Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace: Qui-Gon Jinn is a rebellious Jedi played in full Rob Roy style by Liam Neeson. He possesses a certain set of skills, skills that can make him a nightmare for the Sith. Unless it's a tattooed horned dude. Then he's lightsaber shish kabob. But he meditates before it happens, so he's able to yell shit at Yoda from the afterlife later. Whatever, Maul is lucky he didn't kidnap Jinn's daughter.
Unlike Flynn, Qui-Gon uses his powers often, sometimes in kind of a dicky way. He attempts the Jedi mind trick on a shop-owner, not knowing it doesn't work on gross Jewish stereotypes, fixes a "random" dice roll, and cuts hella droids right in half. He never loses his cool, even when he get almostdevouredfosho by some big-ass fish. And you think Flynn had it hard dealing with Quorra? This dude hangs out with Jar Jar Binks and never force chokes him into a volcano. That shit is zen.
Winner: Qui-Gon kills dudes with a sword made of light. And looks like Darkman. TPM
Commonalities: Mostly silent gentlemen with a tendency toward dehumanizing their appearance, unnecessary acrobatics and warm colors. Their ultra-special secret move is their ultra-special secret weapon, which turns out to be the same weapon everyone has, but they have two.
Tron: Legacy: Renzler is the silent assassin in Clu's employ. Spoiler: He's Tron, who got corrupted way back when. He uses two red identity discs and is still the hero of the games, though he no longer fights for the Users. Or does he? At the end of the movie, he suddenly remembers who he is and sacrifices himself to save Quorra and the Flynns, spouting his catchprase, "I fight for the Users." Clu had been warring with and trying to find Kevin Flynn for hundreds of years, derezzing innocent programs, committing genocide. Good thing Tron had a completely arbitrary change of heart right at the moment it was necessary in the third act of Tron: Legacy
Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace: Darth Maul is so badass, he wears Ed Hardy on his face. He has yellow teeth he uses to sneer like a motherfucker, a double-sided lightsaber, and cool black riding boots. His only desire in life is to stab Jedi. At last he will make his presence known to them. At last he will have revenge. His three-way sword fight at the end of The Phantom Menace almost makes the entire movie worth it -- and despite getting cut in half, he so wins, because Obi-Wan is only able to defeat him by getting angry as hell. I'll bet his top half was totally smirking as he fell down that massive hole that was there for no reason.
Winner: Come on. Darth Maul IS The Phantom Menace. He hates Jedi and he ain't never gonna have no change of heart. And you can't even hate him -- he was bred to be evil. As if a kid with horns can grow up to be a social worker. TPM.
AWFUL CG CHARACTER
Commonalities: What the hell is that?
Tron: Legacy: Clu looks like the uncanny valley threw up all over Jeff Bridges' face. I see the rubber computerized scariness when I close my eyes to sleep. Yeah, the technology is pretty amazing, and a few years from now, it might even be great. This is indeed a big step.
So was the Burly Brawl from The Matrix 2: We Lied To You At The End Of The First Movie. It led to some amazing advancements in entertainment technologies.
It still looked terrible. It still sucked.
Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace: I hate Jar Jar Binks more than anything in the world, including homophobia, self-righteous Vegans and all of my ex-girlfriends combined. If you gave me a gun with two bullets on a desert island populated by me, Jar Jar Binks and Muammar el-Qaddafi, I'd shoot Jar Jar Binks once in each foot and then make a real-life-torture-porn movie staring Jar Jar, me and Mr. el-Qaddafi (he's good at it, 'cause he crazy). Which means Jar Jar is much more real than Clu, who I don't care about at all.
Winner: Jar Jar Binks. TPM.
Bonus: The Phantom Menace also has a rubbery Yoda that's supposed to be younger but mostly looks like a puppet created in the garage by a guy with a Death Star airbrushed panel van.
THE FAUX SCIENCE
Commonalities: A bunch of shit that doesn't make any goddamn sense and murders the very idea of whimsy, imagination, or joy.
Tron: Legacy: Seriously, what the hell are the ISOs? What's with Flynn's Identity Disc? How in the world can a program come out in the real world in human form? Why aren't we creating hundreds of programs with no conscious thought and pulling them out into the world and harvesting them for organs for dying orphans? What's the nature of Flynn's powers? Why doesn't Sam have them? I have a friend who's a computer programmer. When he creates programs, he writes them. From his brain. If anything, he's copying part of himself, not ripping part of his mind out and turning it into a program. But mostly he's just writing and drinking a lot of Mountain Dew and gaining weight. So why is Clu part of Flynn? Does Tron only die if he re-merges with Bruce Boxleitner? Why did I watch this at the dollar movie? I could've bought some gum.
To continue the Star Wars comparisons, the plot of Tron: Legacy is just like the plot of the original Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope, if instead the Death Star was called the "Isomorphic Sphere" (Death Star has too many bad connotations), and Luke had to destroy it because it's important he destroy it.
"Because it needs to be destroyed," everyone would reply. And that's it.
Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace: Star Wars has always been space fantasy, not sci-fi. At least it sticks to its own rules. Oh wait, motherfucking midichlorians
You can't train to become a Jedi unless you got a bunch of parasites living in your blood. Yoda's not a badass, he's just the most infected dude that ever was. Nice way to ruin a bunch of kids' fantasies. No, little Timmy, you can't work hard and train and become a hero, you have to be born of the master midichlorian race.
Winner: TPM. Midichlorians are stupid, but they're not movie's entire MacGuffin.
Commonalities: Where are the minorities? Oh wait it's okay there's one.
Tron: Legacy: Black people? Well, there aren't any. It kinda makes sense: There's no sun, so they would never develop an evolutionary need for darker skin. And with Daft Punk being there, they've no shortage of funky grooves.
See: Siren #3, played by Yaya DaCosta. So there ARE black people on the Grid. As long as they're sexy supermodels and don't speak. I saw an Asian guy too. He was a martial artist. And possibly a Black Eyed Pea.
Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace: Gross stereotypes of: Asian people, Jews, Black people. All strangely old-timey in tone. Probably an homage to the serials that originally inspired the Star Wars series.
Winner: The Phantom Massa.
Commonalities: someone please help me.
Tron: Legacy: The Creator's finest creation turns evil and leads a rebellion against him. He wins, and The Creator is cast out of the world he created. It's remade in evil's image until The Creator's son enters from paradise above. Together the Creator and his son, alongside a virginal woman with special powers, fight the evil reflection of the Creator and the Creator sacrifices himself to save the world. His son returns to paradise alongside the virgin. It's like biblical mirror world.
Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace: A young boy is born via immaculate conception and destined to destroy evil. He is taken in by a bearded and wise father figure and trained to be the ultimate salvation. He falters, but with the help of his son, fulfills his ultimate purpose, sacrificing himself and saving the galaxy from evil and tyranny.
Winner: I've been thinking about these two fucking movies way too much.
THE FINAL TALLY
Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace takes it, winning in eight of nine categories of judgment, proving that it's the better movie (nine of ten -- Duel of the Fates is cool, but the Daft Punk Tron: Legacy score makes me want to dance all night long. Whatever, this ain't no Backbeat blog).
This does not mean you should go and see The Phantom Menace when it's released in 3D next year. Other things you should not do include renting or buying Tron: Legacy.
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Let's stop the madness.