TRON: Legacy contains a couple of sequences that deliver everything you’d dreamt for out of a sequel to the 1982 groundbreaking original. There’s a fantastic light-cycle race, this time played out on a multi-level grid with ramps, that is genuinely thrilling, and there’s a neat Frisbee-disc throw down that makes the battles in the first film look like an Atari 2600 game. The 3D visuals are tremendous, particularly when seen on an IMAX screen, and the complex sound design, which makes great use of Daft Punk’s fantastic score, a combination of synth-pop and orchestral bombast that is just as well-crafted and polished as the eye candy.
So why is the movie such an excruciating bore? First-time director Joseph Kosinski and screenwriters Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz (veterans of TV’s Lost) have managed to replicate the tediousness and suffocating mood of TRON, a movie that is remembered with great nostalgia by an entire generation, but doesn’t warrant the attention (Have you tried watching it recently?).
Things start out promisingly, as Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), still mourning the disappearance of his computer-whiz dad Kevin (Jeff Bridges) 20 years earlier, visits his father’s shuttered videogame arcade and is sucked into the bits-and-bytes inner reality where programs walk around in humanoid form and users – i.e. humans – are treated as the enemy. The program Kevin created at the end of TRON to keep things chugging in the computer grid world, Clu, has become an egomaniacal despot who wants to cross over into our world and take over.
TRON: Legacy splits its time between the reunited father-son relationship and the requisite romantic subplot between Sam and the beautiful Quorra (Olivia Wilde), who looks like a program but may be something more. There is also much time spent on the machinations by Clu (also played by Bridges, made to look younger via computer effects) to carry out his dastardly, clichéd plans. Why does Clu crave so much power? Why does he sit around like a Roman emperor, ruling over the cybermasses with such a cruel hand? Why is it that every time Bridges’ Kevin says the word “man” (“You’re messing with my Zen thing, man!”), you immediately think of The Big Lebowski and wish you were watching that again instead?
The problem may be an innate malfunction of TRON creator Steven Lisberger’s original concept. The grid world is a great place for arena-battle spectacle, but it offers nothing to engage you other than spectacle. All you notice in TRON: Legacy is the impeccable art design – the way Kevin’s hideout has been patterned after Dave Bowman’s Jupiter bedroom in 2001: A Space Odyssey, or the tiny, perfectly shaped cubes of ice in a drink, or the cool curves and colors of the light-jets that engage in a long dogfight at the film’s climax.
Curiously, TRON: Legacy makes the same mistake the original did: All the best stuff comes in the first act. The rest of the movie is as exciting as an overnight round of computer coding. Didn’t the hundreds of talented artists, designers and animators who worked on the film ever notice how dull it was? Kosinski is currently preparing to direct a remake of another Disney dud, The Black Hole, that is best remembered rather than revisited. Here’s hoping that this time, he tries to improve on the original rather than succeed so well at recreating everything that was bad about it.