It has been some time since I last saw the original, 1980’s Tron and it seems a strange film to have a sequel to some 20 years later. It does have a cult following, and has influenced a fair few people, but it has nothing anywhere near the name recognition of, say, Indiana Jones. That said, and my less than fantastic experience at the cinema itself aside, I found I actually enjoyed Tron Legacy. It has its problems, yes, but not CGI-gopher problems.
Legacy opens with the night that Jeff Bridges’ computer genius Kevin Flynn disappears, leaving his young son Sam orphaned and in charge of the company. For most of the scene we don’t see Jeff Bridges’ face and then, as he is leaving, he turns to Sam and BAM! Unsettling young Jeff Bridges face! Yes, it looks somewhat better than what was done for Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart, but there’s still something disconcertingly unreal about it. That plastic unreality only serves to jar you out of the scene. And I’ll come back to that…
Of course, Sam Flynn grows up to be something of a computer genius rebel, with little interest in running his dad's company. Garrett Hedlund is fine, if not a stand-out in the role. But really, these first minutes are all guff in service of getting Sam to his dad's old workshop and, from there, zapped into the Grid (and where the film switches to 3D). From there he's picked up and tossed into the Games. It's kind of nice to see that even digital dictators will control/distract the populace with the old "bread and circuses". The scenes played out in the Games are some of the best in the film - there's a sense of danger and excitement as Sam gets his head around the rules of this world. And, of course, light-cycles*.
It's here that we are introduced to Clu - the younger, eviller Kevin Flynn; the Program who would rule the digital world. That creepy weird unrealness about the younger "real world" Kevin Flynn? It kinda works for Clu: he is a digital creation and the unreality serves the character; like a weird scar on a Bond villain.
Once Sam escapes Clu and his Games though - with the help of Olivia Wilde's wonderful Quorra - the plot becomes needlessly complicated. Not complex, just complicated. And really very Serious. Once Sam finds Flynn the Older - now a zen calm digital Dude - we start to tackle betrayal, genocide... heck you could even talk about a whole Paradise lost situation. And this is all back story exposition. Dark stuff for a hopeful Disney franchise starter.
That aside though, Jeff Bridges seems to be having a ball of a time returning to the character of Kevin Flynn (and villain Clu). Flynn is like a heightened version of Bill Gates - he's a visionary computer programmer but advanced to comic-book levels of realism. Olivia Wilde is understadely great as the lone-survivor Quorra, with gradients of steely determination and wide-eyed naivete coming through. And Michael Sheen, as an Aladdin Sane-era David Bowie bar owner almost upends proceedings with an entirely unhinged performance.
Things do slow down considerably and the plot begins to make very little sense (but, hey, whatever. I've certainly seen worse in big event films) but it does always look and sound very pretty. It is also more fun than I was expecting.
Oh, but is anyone else a little confused as to why it’s called Tron? As wasn't the protagonist in the first one Kevin Flynn? And the character of Tron barely makes an appearance in Legacy.
*It's interesting reflecting on this part now, as it shows an entirely different direction the film could have taken. In the light-cycle sequence, Sam is part of a team and easily takes the lead, helping out the Programs on his team to defeat the bad guys. It's easy to imagine in a different draft how this would have been a sign of Sam possibly leading a Program Resistance movement against Clu. This is me just spit-balling of course.