My first recollections of the Tron franchise came with not the film itself, but the video game series, which ranged from at times stellar (Tron the arcade game) to disappointing (Tron 2.0). With that said, the first time I saw Tron ( the film) was in early 2008, after hearing about how entertaining the film was. So I went in watching that film already knowing that the special effects weren’t going to be earth-shatteringly amazing, the story was going to be lacking and the dialogue was going to be corny. And still, I came out of that film loving every second of it, despite (or in many instances, because of) its deficiencies. It might have felt dated if you saw that film in the early 80s & came back to it 20+ years later, but I still found it as fresh and entertaining as it was back in 1982. With that said, I was very, very excited to see an updated sequel with the filmmaking styles and technologies of the 2000s applied to this particular storyline of the 1980s.
Here we are, it’s 2010 and we have a sequel to what was originally considered only a minor success back in 1982 in Tron: Legacy . And…it’s not bad. Ironically (or fittingly), this movie has the same problems as the original film. It’s gorgeous to look at, and a marvel to listen to, but it falls short in the story department.
Without getting into spoiler territory, I’ll just give the basic plot outline. Sam Flynn (played by Garrett Hedlund) is a 20-something delinquent who finds himself trapped in the computer world that his father disappeared into some 20 years earlier. With the help of his father, Kevin Flynn (played by a scruffy looking, always game Jeff Bridges) and a loyal, fierce and feisty warrior program named Quorra (the lovely and talented Olivia Wilde shines in this role), he aims to take down the evil CLU (a program played by a creepy-looking-for-all-the-wrong-reasons CGI version of Bridges) and find his way back to reality. Regardless of the odd logistical, computer heavy jargon, at its core Tron Legacy is really just a simple chase film, with the protagonists taking hold of a Macguffin type item that the antagonists search and want for some nefarious reason. At times, it’s way too simple, taking elements from previously established sci-fi franchises. You’ll get the feeling that the script was made as a weird hodgepodge of elements from The Matrix, Star Wars and Blade Runner and mixed them together to create something resembling creativity. And because of this, there are quite a few plotholes here and there that can really get in the way of your enjoyment of the film if you think about them for too long.
The performances here are solid. CLU very much belongs to the school of the uncanny valley, but Bridges more or less does a serviceable job with this villain role. His part as Kevin Flynn is little more than“The Dude-lite” but everyone loves The Dude, so that’s totally A-OK with me. Garrett Hedlund is…fine. He’s not completely devoid of personality like a certain Avatar/Clash contemporary of his, but I feel the character needed a bit more personality than Hedlund gave in the role (though his reunion scene with Bridges is genuinely touching, mostly due to Hedlund’s performance). Bruce Boxleitner is in the film as well in another dual role- as a member of Flynn’s company board of directors as well as the eponymous Tron himself. Michael Sheen is also another actor who rarely gives a bad performance. Even though he is essentially playing the same character as his character Aro from The Twilight Saga, he shines. Both Sheen and Bruce needed more screentime, in my opinion. Olivia Wilde is the…wild card here (sorry, really couldn’t avoid that one), as her character could have been stoic and personality-free, or annoyingly childish and naive. Luckily, she’s neither. As Quorra, she is both child-like and strong, timid and domineering. She kicks a hell of a lot of ass in this film, and I have a feeling that this might just be her breakout role in film. She is by far the most interesting character in the film.
However, I feel that Tron as a franchise was never meant to inspire Oscar-worthy scripts or performances. It was always meant to be a technological marvel. Tron Legacy absolutely succeeds at this goal. It’s absolutely, ridiculously gorgeous to look at. The scenes are bright, fast and very flashy and the world that is created is just phenomenal. It’s as state of the art as Avatar or any of these other powerhouse blockbusters. It truly makes you believe that this world is real, which is Tron’s biggest attribute. Regarding the presentation in theaters: The 3D, in my opinion did not do it for me, and I feel a solid 2D screen will get the job done just as well (without that muddy 3D picture), but if you like 3D, you’ll love the visuals. The soundtrack by Daft Punk is stellar as well. This is not Pitchfork, so I won’t review the soundtrack, but just know that while it lacks the memorable Tron theme from 1982, it is euphoric and wonderful to listen to. This is one of the few times where the music elevates the visual material at hand.
If I were to describe Tron Legacy in one word, it would be, simply enough, “cool”. It’s cool to watch. It’s cool to listen to. It might not have a lot of deep substance going on underneath, but damn if it isn’t pretty to look at.