After 28 years, the Tron franchise is resurrected with a visually stunning but emotionally hollow update to the original film.
The first film was about a brilliant software engineer, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who enters into a virtual world whilst this sequel picks up many years later as his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) tries to solve the disappearance of his father.
Responding to a mysterious message he finds himself pulled into the world where Kevin has been trapped.
Aided by a female warrior Quorra (Olivia Wilde), father and son have to escape the new digital universe and the clutches of those who now rule it.
The original film was by no means a huge hit, but it was a pioneering film that used computer graphics and live action in a way that foreshadowed the revolution in CGI over the last 30 years.
Disney’s decision to reboot Tron for a new generation, seems to be an attempt to engage audiences who remember it and to adapt the technology driven story for the current digital age, utilising cutting edge 3D and digital effects.
On a purely technical level, the film largely succeeds.
Director Joseph Kosinski has a background in architecture and commercials and the look of the film is remarkable.
Not only are the individual visual effects impressive, but the alternate digital world of ‘The Grid’ is brilliantly realised by the effects team from Digital Domain.
The dark, neon lit landscape is a dazzling upgrade from the first film and the stylised costumes, light cycles, discs and various vehicles all provide a feast for the eyes in both the action sequences and calmer moments.
Utilising a similar 3D camera system on which Avatar was shot has paid off, using the frame in an immersive, considered way which contrasts with recent productions which unwisely opted for retrofitted 3D in post-production.
The one visual misstep involves a digital version of Bridges, which only serves to highlight the difficulty in crossing the ‘uncanny valley‘ when using motion capture characters on screen.
But there is a deeper problem at the heart of Tron: Legacy, which is the chasm between the pioneering visuals and the writing.
The script by Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis feels clunky and episodic, like episodes of TV show cobbled together in a rush or levels on a computer game that are just there to be completed.
This leads to an inherent lack of drama and consequence to the material, despite the visual pyrotechnics that make it so captivating to look at. It also means the performances suffer, as the characters are often just cogs in a wheel.
Hedlund is a generic young lead who lacks charisma; in contrast, Bridges has presence and gravitas as the elder Flynn, whilst these qualities are absent in his younger alter-ego C.L.U.; Wilde looks and feels right for her part, but has little to do except kick some obligatory butt.
In supporting roles Michael Sheen seems to be doing a camper version of David Frost as a mysterious club owner and actors such as James Frain and Beau Garrett also feel like elaborate props rather than actual characters.
Despite these fundamental drawbacks, the score by Daft Punk is absolutely epic: a wonderful mixture of their trademark electronica with a full orchestra that gives the whole film an extra kick.
It is curious to predict how audiences will react to Tron: Legacy as it references a lot of the original film and yet at the same time feels quite different.
Disney have opted not to re-release the original, so its presence lingers over this sequel in a strange way: are they worried about it looking dated in comparison or just planning for releasing both films on Blu-ray and DVD at a later date?
Certainly the original, whilst groundbreaking, wasn’t a huge hit and there has to be a concern that a new generation might be a little confused as to why this new film exists and why it took nearly thirty years to warrant a sequel.
If you look closely at the end credits you’ll see the filmmakers thank the fans of Hall H at Comic-Con, the annual convention which has held such a sway over Hollywood in recent years.
This film has been a fixture there since 2008 when Joseph Kosinski and producer Sean Bailey gauged interest for the project with test footage and even earlier this year where they recorded audio from the crowd, presumably for the arena sequence.
But is there a danger of Hollywood pandering to the geek-fuelled fantasies of Comic-Con?
Given that Disney has spent a rumoured $200 million on this film, they will be anxiously hoping that mainstream audiences are as passionate as fans in Hall H.
The finished film reflects the strange journey it has had to the screen, as it is both technically dazzling and structurally disjointed.
Although Disney can expect a big opening, the film’s shortcomings as a drama and possible confusion as to what it actually is (a sequel to a semi-cult 1982 film) could mean it struggles to have an impact on the wider culture.
> Official site
> Reviews of Tron Legacy at Metacritic
> Find out more about Tron at Wikipedia
> Details on the Daft Punk score