TRON: Legacy is one of the biggest releases of the year and while it has its problems, the visuals certainly aren’t one of them.
TRON: Legacy picks up where the original TRON left off in 1982. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridge, reprising his role but in aged hippie mode) has returned to our world from the digital world. He creates the video game TRON based on his experiences in the digital world for Encom, a company that rises to prominence under his leadership. TRON becomes the most successful video game of all time. The company becomes incredibly successful. Kevin has a son, Sam Flynn, whom he puts bed at night by telling him stories of his exploits in the digital world. Flynn tells Sam that he still visits the world and that he is building it into something incredible with the help of Tron, the warrior that helped him during his first visit, and Clu, a program he created in his likeness. Life is going well for Kevin Flynn. But then he disappears.
Twenty years later, Flynn’s company, Encom, is run by heartless business men that only care about making money and his son is a reckless vandal that will sabotage the company but won’t step up to take control of Encom. A message from a phone line that has been disconnected for twenty years sends Sam (Garret Hedlund) to Flynn’s arcade where he discovers his father’s secret lab and is transported into the digital world. At first he marvels at the world his father has created, but soon learns that this world and his own are in peril.
Without equivocation, this film is beautiful. The design work is incredible, preserving the designs from the original film but adding more detail and scope. The design of the costumes is magnificent. It would be easy to make skin tight black body suits that light up look cheap and tacky but these look sleek and modern and just downright cool. The whole world carries a beautiful polish, from the imposing cityscape to the light cycles and other vehicles. And the way to activate a light cycle is pretty damn awesome. If you thought light cycles couldn’t get any cooler, brace your yourself, because you were wrong. In fact, all the light in this movie is pretty cool.
TRON: Legacy‘s world is an interesting one because it seems to contain no light. All the light in that world radiates from the characters or the vehicles and buildings they have created. This leads to an interesting idea of the morality of characters being expressed through the colour of the light they emit. Good characters emit a pale blue light and evil characters emit a red light. Although there are a few exceptions for specific characters, some emit white light, suggesting that they are most pure. One character in particular emits an orange light, which appears to be a blend of the pale blue and the red, suggesting that his morality is conflicted.
I wish as much work had been put into the characters as was put into the character designs. Or that director Joseph Kosinski had been less enamored with the world he crafted. The pace of the movie plods along because there are so many shots inserted to show off the world. Also, while the action scenes are numerous, they are over so fast it is hard for them to make any impact. With the notable exception of the light cycle sequence. And rarely do these sequence convey any sense of stakes, which is a problem of the entire film.
TRON: Legacy tells us there are stakes, but it never makes you feel the weight of those stakes. There is a portal that is the only way back to our world and it is closing, but there is no sense of urgency. Sure, characters are trying to get the portal but the time limit never seems to be in effect. At one point the characters get on a some kind of air train that will take them to the portal and it is quite obviously the slowest vehicle in the entire digital world. There’s also an army planning to invade our world from the digital world by crossing through the portal. Seems like that might add some stakes, right? The problem is that this army has also decided to take one of these painfully slow air trains.
There are also some tonal problems with the film. The design of the world, while beautiful, is rather oppressive. It’s a world made of blackness, which creates a space that feels like a limitless void at times. Yet, during many scenes, Garret Hedlund is saddled with one liners that would be right at home in an 80s action film. These lines are meant to inspire levity but end up feeling inappropriate and out of place in this world. Perhaps if there wasn’t so much black in the colour palette of the film or if the environment wasn’t so vast and desolate these moments of comedy would work, but as it stands now, they don’t.
One of the bright spots of the film is Olivia Wilde in the role of Quorra. She is so much fun to watch. Even though Quorra is smart and very capable of handling herself in hostile situations, there is a childlike wonder in her that is so endearing and captivating. She has read Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky but prefers Jules Verne. There is a light in Wilde’s eyes that draws you in and makes you want to see the world as she does: a place full of wonderful discoveries. She easily turns in the best performance of the film.
An important note to make here is something that TRON: Legacy gets very right: this is how 3D is supposed to be used. This was clearly a filmmaker’s decision and used as a storytelling mechanic, not some studio-driven cash grab. Harkening back to The Wizard of Oz, the beginning of the film is in 2D but when Sam enters the digital world, it shifts into 3D. It’s a wonderful touch that conveys the wonder of the new world that Sam has found himself in.
Perhaps the single best thing about this film is Daft Punk’s score. The electronic infused score provides pulsating beats to club scenes but also finds a tenderness to underscore more emotional moments. The score can also soar and crescendo to create something that is truly epic. It’s hard not to absolutely fall in love with it because it is damn near perfect.
TRON: Legacy is a movie I wanted to love. And while I don’t hate the film, I can’t help but feel disappointed. It had so much promise and begins to present many interesting ideas, but these never coalesce into anything meaningful. The film wears a stunningly beautiful skin, but, sadly, doesn’t have a heart beating beneath it.