Tron: Legacy (2012)
Written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
In 2012 it was evident that director Christopher Nolan was having a massive influence on Hollywood and moviemaking. You could see this in the trailer released post-Inception with their Hans Zimmer-inspired “bwaaaaa” sounds. It was also seen in the cinematography that had become popular, very sterile, clean framing. The scope of a setting was essential, and the camera often paused to take in mind-bending landscapes, which sometimes superseded character development or plot. Tron: Legacy is clearly a film not just inspired by the 1982 original but shaped in the popular aesthetics of the time. On paper, this sounds like something that could work but could also fall completely flat.
Once again, Tron isn’t even a significant part of this story, relegated to an even more minor supporting role. Instead, our hero is Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), the son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges). The father has been missing for twenty years, and Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) comes around to tell Sam that he got a pager message from Kevin’s old arcade. This intrigues Sam enough to go to the boarded-up store and poke around before finding a hidden office. While going through the files on his dad’s computer, he accidentally boots up the experimental laser from the first film and is digitized into The Grid. Things have changed in the computer world with better graphics, just as they have in the real world.
This new Grid is ruled over by Clu (also Bridge but digitally de-aged) Kevin’s briefly glimpsed program from the first movie. Something has transpired that has put him in place as the authoritarian ruler of this realm. Sam is forced to compete in The Games, recreating the original light disc and light cycle competitions. The younger Flynn is rescued by Quorra (Olivia Wilde), an apprentice to Kevin who is much older but still alive, living in exile on the fringes of the Grid. Sam begins to learn about what went wrong and formulates a way to try and escape and fix these wrongs.
I remember that at the time, there was a lot of hype surrounding this picture. This was the feature debut of Joseph Kosinski, whose subsequent work I’ve thought was pretty good. And he does a decent job directing this picture. Everything looks very nice, and the time spent on production design was well worth it. The world of The Grid is interesting to look at; the characters that populate it have intriguing designs that evoke the original but build on those aesthetics. The original score by Daft Punk is damn good and fits the style of the picture to perfection. But that’s about all I have good to say about this movie. It does a slightly better job of world-building than its predecessor but the world we’re presented with, from a story point of view, is not very interesting to me.
The film depends on a long-winded expository flashback that introduces and subsequently erases the living MacGuffins of the film, the ISOs. These are organisms that have been naturally generated in The Grid, not programs made by humans. It’s a very intriguing concept, yet the film does next to nothing with it. Instead, they are used as the impetus for Clu’s dissent and then die off-screen after being glimpsed for one scene. The audience never really gets to know them, but we are told how important they are. Ultimately they could have been cut from the film and not made much of a difference to the plot. The main drive for Sam and Kevin is to get out of The Grid, which is what they would have strived for regardless. We eventually learn Quorra is the last ISO but does it matter to the plot? Nope.
Tron: Legacy is a very good-looking bad movie at the end of the day. It has the look and general feel of what you would want from a follow-up film, but any momentary focus on the narrative and character development just sees the whole thing crumble. Garrett Hedlund is dead weight as a lead, lacking the charisma Bridges brought in the first Tron. Bridges is even so muted and boring as an exiled sage figure. There’s only one character in the whole movie that shows any sense of personality, Zuse (Michael Sheen), and he is cringingly over the top, like a character from an entirely different film. There is talk of a potential sequel sometime in the future, but I’m not impressed from what I have seen of the Tron franchise. They are lovely special effects showcases, but they rely on bland character arcs for narratives. I don’t really see the appeal of the series beyond aesthetics, and I don’t fault anyone for enjoying them for that reason. I’m strongly compelled to want to revisit the Grid, though.