TRON: Legacy is the sequel to 1982’s TRON. The original, while an expensive box-office flop, today serves as a precursor to the computer generated imagery we now take for granted, as well as being a revered slice of cult cinema firmly entrenched in 80’s apocrypha. 28 years later, its sequel sees central character Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) trapped in a computerised dystopia of his own creation with his self-programmed doppelganger, C.L.U (also played by Bridges, in youthful guise) threatening to take over the world or something. It’s all wildly convoluted but the fate of the universe ultimately hinges on Flynn, his son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) and Quorra (Olivia Wilde), another creation of Flynn’s who may or may not be the key to solving all the world’s problems.
TRON: Legacy is ambitious. Too ambitious. While the 1982 original was a care-free romp through cutting-edge, technological playgrounds that placed an emphasis on ‘fun’ and curtailed any pretensions to ideology and meta-narratives; its 2010 sequel doesn’t fuck around, placing themes as far-reaching as creationism, freedom, fatherhood, sentience, genocide, evolution and biblical sacrifice at its core. And that’s where it falters. Visual splendour, frenetic action and digital dalliances with futurism, juxtaposed with throwbacks to 1980’s pop culture – these are surely the foundations on which any modern day TRON film should be built. And yet, too often and for too long, these things are treated as a mere backdrop for dense blocks of impenetrable exposition.
It‘s not all bad though. While there aren’t nearly enough of them, the action sequences that are present, are expertly composed, striking a satisfying balance between homage and progression. Homage to the iconic ‘Light Cycles’ and ‘Disc Battles’ of the original, here pulled into the 21st century in a synergy of photo-realistic CGI and probably quite dangerous practical stunt work, and progression in the form of decidedly modern ‘parkour’ and ‘base-jumping’ scenes that occur in the ‘real world‘.
A slither of the original’s revolutionary verve is also present in TRON: Legacy’s digitally ‘de-aged’ projection of a youthful Jeff Bridges, the effect of which is (mostly) impressive. Despite a few instances where technological limitations expose the imperfections of the CGI creation, one can’t help but suspect that, much like TRON ushered in an age of computer generated imagery in film, the ‘de-aging’ of actors will become commonplace in the wake of TRON: Legacy.
On the subject of actors, ‘de-aged’ or otherwise, TRON: Legacy has its share of good ones. Essentially playing three distinct roles (younger Flynn, older Flynn, and C.L.U), Jeff Bridges puts forth a predictably commendable performance, alternately exuding righteous indignation and confused villainy (C.L.U), and occupying the void between Messianic aspirant and The Big Lebowski’s The Dude (Flynn). Elsewhere, the versatile Michael Sheen crops up as the androgynous Castor, a Bowie-esque, scene-stealing haze of beguilement, and Olivia Wilde proves more than capable of being enigmatic and sultry. And flexible.
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the movie though, is the original soundtrack performed by Daft Punk. Presiding over a score that covers musical ground beyond the French duo’s usual scope, by fusing their trademark, playful, electronic-filtered disco sensibilities with much darker, melancholy, orchestral motifs, Daft Punk have contributed something indispensable to TRON: Legacy’s plight; atmosphere.
But more than anything, it’s the element of nostalgia that keeps TRON: Legacy from being a bit rubbish. Even in the harsh light of its plot-hole ridden and needlessly pretentious narrative and even with its dearth of action and its laboured pacing, it’s still a film that’s inextricably involved with its own history (or its own legacy, if you wanted to be cute), which in this instance, transpires to be an intoxicating miasma of neon lights, 8-bit sounds, and childhood memories.