I have fond memories of Tron. Not just memories that were implanted in my mind way back in 1982 and left to bloom in the darkness of the intervening years but memories of enjoying Tron every time I’ve ever watched it. I used to own the special edition DVD (and plan to again, ASAP) and was happy to be one of the people who had always defended it to the masses.
So I was as excited as any other greatly excited people when I started hearing the news about a sequel. I didn’t get any more excited when I learned it was going to be in 3D because a) I like 3D now and again but, like many others, am getting sick of it being used to wring extra money out of every movie viewer and b) I had already peaked. Then I saw the trailer and realised that I hadn’t actually peaked before but that seeing the trailer was certainly the peak.
How could this film live up to all of the expectations it had instilled in my feeble mind? How could it live up to the greatness of it’s sequel (and, yes, I think the sequel is indeed a great film)? How could it make it’s own indelible mark in a world of computers and FX that it’s own predecessor so presciently predicted?
Short answer – it couldn’t.
TRON: Legacy picks up, kind of, where Tron left off. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is recounting the events of the first movie for his son and tucks him into bed before heading off to work, and then never being seen again. 21 years later, we catch up with young Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), who has gone slightly off the rails and resents the years he has spent without his father around. Sam is smart, principled and likes to do nothing more than play a major prank on his father’s company, ENCOM, once a year before indulging in a bit of base jumping. It’s after his latest stunt that his father’s friend, Alan (Bruce Boxleitner), pops up and tells Sam that he just received a page from a number that’s been disconnected for 20 years. This leads Sam to check out Flynn’s Arcade and sees him getting transported into the breathtaking world of Tron. But where Kevin Flynn used to be a hero and champion of the external users there is now Clu, a program created in his image and one striving to create and maintain a perfect world. This would be disastrous if he ever got the chance to visit the real, outside world and the real Kevin Flynn, now hiding out off the main grid, knows this all too well. But the presence of his son in this brave new PC World changes the entire game.
Much like it’s predecessor, TRON: Legacy uses the technology of today to it’s utmost potential. Some 2D scenes bookend the movie but that only makes the jump into the 3D world of Tron all the more stunning, and it IS stunning. The cool, neon-lined environment and suits of the inhabitants, the geometric shapes all around, the gravity-defying tricks and flourishes that all add to the magic are total eye-candy. Then there’s the technology used to create Clu. Seeing a young Jeff Bridges, briefly, in the opening sequence feels very strange and a bit creepy but seeing him in the world of Tron also feels strange and a bit creepy yet it works because it’s allowed to look a little bit off in a computer game. It IS digitised. There are also a few flashback sequences, featuring a younger Kevin Flynn, Clu and Tron, that are executed perfectly, with a few tricks here and there to cover the imperfections. And I haven’t even mentioned the identity-disc fights, the lightcycles or some impressive aerial dogfighting.
The acting is not great but it’s good enough. Hedlund is just fine as the headstrong son of the cocky Flynn that fans will recall from the first movie, Olivia Wilde is sassy and sexy (with a nice mix of naivete thrown in there) as Quorra, a useful ally, and Michael Sheen has a blast in his small onscreen appearance. Daft Punk make an amusing cameo too.
But when it’s not all about the FX work, this is Jeff Bridges’ show. Clu is both a standard bad guy and yet a rather sad and misguided individual while the aged Kevin Flynn has become some Yoda/Neo/Dude amalgamation that’s as enjoyable as it is bizarre. Whatever either role demands, Bridges brings it and it’s immensely satisfying to just be able to continue a journey with someone you thought that you’d seen the last off back in the early 1980s.
Bruce Boxleitner was never the best actor anyway but it’s also nice to see him getting some decent screentime here, even if it does feel like it’s just a nod for the fans. Isn’t it the fervent, loyal fanbase that ultimately allowed this movie to be made?
But I have to end on a bit of a sour note. Where the action set-pieces and FX immeasurably succeed, the plot and characterisation often fail. The film certainly feels cutting-edge and ice cool (whereas the original had to wait a while to become retro-cool and to have it’s progressive ideas acknowledged) but it also really brings nothing new to the table. Programs still engage in fights, there is still a battle against power-hungry leaders and the whole thing still revolves around some extra-special effects. That would be fine if some of the better moments didn’t feel as if they’d just been completely lifted from the original and given a lick of CGI paint. I saw the identity-disc fight and the lightcycles and was all a-quiver with excitement but then I immediately thought “where can it go from here?”. With some work put into the plot and some energy invested in certain characters the possibilities could have been endless but, instead, we get a lot of technobabble and new age mumbo jumbo that tries, and fails, to cover up the fact that this has less thought-provoking material at it’s CPU than the original movie did and we get some major character changes that come from nowhere and pretty much add up to a “deus ex machine” – almost literally.
I love Tron, I love the world of Tron and I wanted to love this sequel. Joseph Kosinski has impressed with the respect for the original movie and use of modern technology to create something that stands as an absolutely amazing feast for the eyes (even considering moments such as Clu looking at his own reflection in a shiny, fake apple represents such an awe-inspiring visual wonder) but he’s let down by a shoddy script (by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz) that only works when making more than a cursor-y glance towards the first film.
Go and see it at the cinema, enjoy the amazing experience that it provides and look forward to a double-bill when it’s released on shiny disc. Just don’t expect it to be as good as the first film.
DIRECTOR: JOSEPH KOSINSKI
CAST: JEFF BRIDGES, GARRETT HEDLUND, OLIVIA WILDE, BRUCE BOXLEITNER, MICHAEL SHEEN
RUNTIME: 127 MINS APPROX