Way back in 1982, the original "TRON" was a visionary film that combined cutting-edge visual effects, a decent adventure story and some high-tech predictions about the future. Almost 30 years later, "TRON: Legacy" revisits the world of the Grid, once again using cutting-edge visual effects, but lacking a coherent story.
"TRON: Legacy" starts out strong, providing a visual tour de force to the audience with fast action, impressive vistas in both the real and virtual worlds, smart references to the original film and a laying out of the key players. We're treated to a re-imagined disc battle and an absolutely amazing rendition of a lightcycle race — all in the first 30 minutes or so of the movie.
Watching the disc battles play out on the big screen was impressive, with their high speed and razor-sharp edges, but for all the pomp and flash, it was here that the movie first started to stumble. Rather than highlight a highly choreographed fight between athletic competitors going back and forth, attacking, parrying and blocking in a tense battle, the majority of the disc combat was a rather direct affair with one or two shots thrown before one of the competitors was killed. It didn't convey a sense of skill, so much as a competition of pure luck.
The lightcycle sequence, on the other hand, was easily the highlight of the film. Here the combat was layered and intricate, with a well choreographed race across a multi-layered track. The designs were new, but they retained the same overall form as the classic cycles, offering up immediate familiarity. It's a sequence that easily evokes the same amount of awe in today's viewer that the original sequence evoked when seen for the first time back in the early '80s.
Up until the end of the lightcycle sequence, "TRON: Legacy" looked as though it was destined for greatness. Instead, this is the point where the story loses its footing. Plucked from the races by Quorra (Olivia Wilde), Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) races off to meet his estranged father, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges). Instead of heading over in a suitable TRON-inspired vehicle, the producers appear to have repurposed both an old Batmobile as well as the Christian Bale-styled Batcave.
Far from the cocky programmer he once was, Kevin Flynn is now a Zen master whose solution to life is simply "do nothing" and react like a stoned hippie. It's as if the scriptwriter somehow confused the character of Flynn with that of Bridges' other cult hit hero, The Dude.
Although his turn as Kevin Flynn is underwhelming, Bridges pulls off a respectably megalomaniacal turn as the dictatorial control program, Clu. Written by Kevin Flynn, Clu looks and sounds like a younger Bridges — thanks to the magic of visual effects.
Ultimately, the action ramps up a bit, though the later set pieces never quite match the initial intensity of that first lightcycle race. What about the later disc battles? It's implied that a big one happens, but rather than seeing things firsthand, we see Sam Flynn enter a room, and then the camera cuts to the next room while the fight happens off-screen. In a movie that relies on visual appeal, it's difficult to understand why this choice was made.
Perhaps the biggest issue with "TRON: Legacy" is the simple fact that the script doesn't stand alone and exploit its own universe. Instead, the writers lifted heavily from other sci-fi films, such as "Star Wars," "The Matrix," "Dark City" and "Blade Runner." The original struck out on its own and gave us a tale that, love it or hate it, was fresh, at the very least. Here, the story happens against a TRON backdrop but doesn't really make use of the universe.
Fans of the original film are also going to be left wondering why certain characters are introduced and then never used. A key example is Dillinger's son. With Dillinger being the villain in the first film, one would expect that if his son shows up, he would have some relevance to the plot. Instead, he's featured in a throwaway role that had zero bearing on the story.
For all of the issues with the film, one area that is strong throughout is the musical score. Provided by electronica duo Daft Punk, the soundtrack is uniformly strong and doesn't have a single bad track on the entire album. Dark and ominous at times, fast and upbeat at others, the music is always expertly paired to the events on-screen. It's easily as memorable as Wendy Carlos' original score.
As a special effects bonanza, "TRON: Legacy" is worth seeing on the big screen, especially if you're a fan of the franchise. If you expect anything more than lightcycles and neon effects, though, prepare for a disappointment. To put it in sci-fi terms, "TRON: Legacy" is to "TRON" as "The Phantom Menace" is to "Star Wars." It manages to get a favored franchise back on the big screen but loses a lot of the magic in the process. As a stand-alone film, however, "Prince of Persia" was a better video game movie all around.
Editor's Note: TRON: Evolution is currently available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PSP and PC. TRON: Evolution - Battle Grids is available for the Nintendo DS and Wii. Be sure to check out our full video game review to see how it stacks up to the film.
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