As I’ve mentioned countless times before, legacy Sequels seem to be Hollywood’s current favoured method of increasing the lifespan of movie franchises while still maintaining the same spirit that started them off in the first place, but surely the most audacious of these was the 2010 attempt to literally reboot the Tron universe to finally take advantage of the trippy concepts floated by the ahead-of-its-time original.
However, if I’m being honest, while I appreciate what Tron was trying to do and the fanatical cult worship it gets from some quarters, I’ve always been a little bemused by the film itself which isn’t much more than a garish, glowing version of a slave and sandal pic – a sparkly Sparticus if you will. Yet once Disney first announced the sequel I found myself hoping that it would swoop in and bring the franchise to the modern masses the way its devoted acolytes hoped it would.
We’re still on stand-by…
After vanishing without a trace back in ’89, the son of legendary computer programmer and CEO of ENCOM Kevin Flynn has grown to be a despondent and troubled young man despite being a majority shareholder in his old man’s company. However, after his latest prank on the progressively more cutthroat ENCOM results in a brand new operating system being leaked online for free, Sam Flynn gets a visit from his dad’s old friend Alan Bradley who claims he’s received a beeper message that’s come from Kevin’s old acrade almost exactly 20 years after he first vanished. Doing some detective work, Sam finds himself zippidy-zapped into the computer world to experience the orange and teal nightmares the world of The Grid now has to offer.
But where once this digital universe had been liberated from the tyranny of the Master Control Programme, it now bends under the glowing boot of Clu, a programme created by Kevin to aid him and fellow liberator Tron to mold the world into something better, but like all examples movie A.I., his mission for perfection has turned him into vicious conqueror.
As Sam tries to negotiate this world by fighting his way through the same gladiatorial games his father did decades earlier, he barely manages to survive a scrape with Clu’s nimble enforcer, Rinzler thanks to the timely interference of Quorra, a member of a sentient race born inside the Grid known as ISOs who has been sheltered in hiding by Kevin who has been living a reclusive life at the edge of the system.
Finally reunited with his father, Sam finds that it was, in fact, Clu who sent the summons as a way to lure out Kevin and locate a way to shift his army into the real world – bright side? Wifi in 2010 will be more dependable I guess.
Effectively having to act as a partial remake as to get people up to speed who have chosen not to spend 100 minutes of their life watch Jeff Bridges run around in glowing lycra, Tron: Legacy wisely goes the Evil Dead II route and basically reimagines all the first movie’s most iconic moments within it’s first third. This means we get lush, redos of the whizzing disc battles and pulse pounding light cycle duels that was essentially the entire advertising campaign the movie was based upon, but once this section of the story ends, Tron: Legacy shifts from Gladiator with graphics to something more akin to Casablanca with polygons as Sam and Quorra have to negotiate the Grid’s seedy – yet still gorgeous – underworld to gain safe passage from club owner Castor (a wildly flamboyant Michael Sheen channeling equal parts Loki, Ruby Rhod and the Merovingian from the Matrix sequels).
Fittingly for a Tron movie, the visual language it has is beyond reproach – even the Walt Disney logo is rendered in pitch blacks and neon blues – and it works overtime to not only update the glowing world but also the looks of it’s denizens and its various awesome fucking vehicles is nothing short of world class world building while all set to a pulsating score by electronic dance duo, Daft Punk.
Garrett Hedlund does the hero thing to a decent level, but Sam ultimately is a staunch vanilla example of franchise heroism, but Olivia Wilde’s performance as the slinky, inquisitive algorithm Quorra is genuinely engaging as her giant eyes translates well as a sheltered being that’s desperate to learn. “You know Jules Verne?” She equires of Sam at one point and when he replies in the positive her endearing response is “What’s he like?”. Of course there’s no mentioning Tron without bringing up Jeff Bridges and in his duel role as Kevin and Clu (more on him in a minute) you can tell he’s having a,whale of a time playing his iconic character as some sort of hippy, digital holy man while yelling out stuff like “Bio-digital jazz!” when explaining how he, Clu and Tron started recreating this new universe and “You’re messing with my zen thing, man!” when things start to get too hairy. However, not everything manages to live up to the movie’s technical expectations and Bridges’ digital de-aging provides the same knee-jerk reactions of revulsion caused by the dead-eyed humunculi that populated The Polar Express which ultimately means his villain just doesn’t work and is creepy for all the wrong reasons.
Another thing letting Tron: Legacy down is that it obviously is supposed to be the start of a new franchise that still hasn’t surfaced yet despite Jarred Leto’s – of all people – insistence otherwise. This means that some of the story’s most interesting threads are left dangling in the wind. Most tantalising of all is the character of Tron himself who is presumed dead but in actuality has been reprogrammed into Rinzler and turned into essentially the movie’s version of Darth Maul; e.g. a duel weaponed henchman that acrobats his way into hogging the movie’s best scenes. It’s weird that the title character of the entire franchise is in the film but has no real role in it (despite Bruce Boxenleiter neatly returning as his programmer Alan Bradley), but then this ends up being part of Tron: Legacy’s most noticable bugs.
While this high res return to an 80’s classic looks stunning and is genuinely intriguing, it’s not particularly exciting and you feel like there’s way too much left to be said by the time the credits roll.
So, a sci-fi epic that’s before it’s time – technology speaking – that has since ended up having a cult following that strongly desires another entry; I don’t know about you but that sounds like the perfect Tron sequel to me…