Tron: Legacy is an enjoyable family film that has exciting action, great special effects, and absolutely terrible philosophical underpinnings.
This last point may come as a surprise to fans of the first Tron movie, which had some truly positive themes. Tron, released in 1982, is not just an adventure movie but a Christian allegory. Within the digital world of a computer processor, autonomous programs are made in the image and likeness of human "users," but those who profess a belief in their creator are persecuted by the Master Control Program (MCP). The human heroes of the movie become computer programs in a sort of incarnation to save the system from the MCP. The MCP forces uncooperative programs to fight trained soldier programs in arena games. This is reminiscent of the Circus Maximus in Rome, where Christians were killed in creative ways to entertain a pagan audience. The theme of persecution is apparent during a climactic scene in which rebel programs are set to be executed in a cruciform position before they are rescued by the heroes. In addition, the minions of the MCP are colored red, perhaps an allusion to Communism. Tron is a movie with a good message, but its sequel did not follow this precedent.
In fact, Tron: Legacy presents a negative message. The plot and philosophy of the film revolve around the Isomorphic Algorithims or ISOs, sentient programs that evolved spontaneously on the computer grid. The ISOs are super-geniuses that are supposed to be able to solve the mysteries of science, philosophy, and religion for the benefit of mankind. "Solving mysteries in religion" ought to set off alarm bells in the minds of Christians. There are two types of religious mystery, the kind stemming from the inability of humans to fully comprehend the nature of God, and the type that is invented and solved by humans or in this case, ISOs. That second type belongs to the heresies of Gnosticism. According to Gnosticism, a person is saved not by God, but by knowledge of God; knowledge that enables one to achieve a state of saving self-knowledge called Gnosis. In Tron: Legacy that saving knowledge comes from computer programs, a literal deus ex machina.
Movies are both literary and visual and the Gnosticism of Tron: Legacy has a definite visual component. Jeff Bridges' character is shown meditating, and one can safely assume that he isn't contemplating the mysteries of the Rosary. This is Gnosticism with an Eastern tinge, as the person in a meditative state looks inward to achieve a state of Gnosis. Describing the differences between figures portrayed in Buddhist and Christian art, G.K. Chesterton writes, "The Buddhist is looking with a peculiar intentness inwards. The Christian is staring with a frantic intentness outwards." Compared to the cruciform believers in Tron, the spiritual imagery in Tron: Legacy is a major step in the wrong direction.
Two further points are worth making about the Isomorphic Algorithms. First, the ISO Menschen are Über not by any sort of virtue, but because they are simply knowledgeable. This is consistent not only with classical Gnosticism but also with Scientism and other iterations of Modernism, a philosophy equally perniciuos. Second, the ISOs, who as products of the electronic grid could be considered creations of humanity, are supposed to save their creators. This is the exact opposite of the first movie, in which the users save their creation. Just as Tron is analogous to God saving Man, Tron: Legacy is analogous to Man saving or at least changing God. This is consistent with modern western culture, in which people believe in a God made in their own image, a God who conforms to whatever ideology or lifestyle the individual chooses to adopt. Though they may appear at first to be an innocuous plot element, the ISOs are binary bundles of bad philosophy.