Matthew Kresal returns to the Grid.
Twenty-eight years after Tron first hit cinema screens in 1982, the long awaited sequel Tron: Legacy finally saw the light of day. Given both the advances of special effects and the legacy (no pun intended) of the original film, Tron: Legacy found itself with a high set of expectations before it. Keeping both of those things in mind, how does Legacy stand up as a sequel to the original film?
Let’s start by looking at the two returning cast members; Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner who both reprise their roles from the original film. Bridges plays both Kevin Flynn and his digital avatar, the program named CLU. The Flynn of Legacy is quite different from the quirky everyman seen in the original film, this Flynn being more philosophic as well as having a dash of both Bridges’ The Dude character and just a bit of Obi-Wan Kenobi thrown in for good measure. While that might make one think the character would be unrecognizable, just the reverse is true as Bridges portrayal presents a believable continuation for the character. CLU is, while wearing Flynn’s face from the 1980s, very much different as he has become a tyrannical ruler bent on creating what is perfection in his own eyes. Boxleitner reprises the roles of Alan Bradley and Tron, both of which are effectively extended cameo appearances but come across as crucial to the film’s plot. Both actors are able to reprise their younger roles thanks to a bit of digital de-aging that for the most part works incredibly well (though some of the shots of the younger Flynn are very noticeable due to the lighting). The result is a nice link back to the original film that nevertheless expands on it as well.
The majority of the cast though are new characters. Playing Flynn’s now grown son Sam is Garrett Hedlund who, like Bridges in the original film, convincingly portrays a fairly normal person sent into a digital world. Outshining him to a certain degree is Olivia Wilde as the program Quorra whose performance perfectly captures what is effectively an innocent abroad character with an action film twist. It also helps that Hedlund and Wilde share a good deal of chemistry between them, something which helps the film out no end. Also appearing in the supporting cast is an almost unrecognizable Michael Sheen as Castor, James Frain as CLU's henchman Jarvis and Beau Garrett as Gem. Tron: Legacy is also full of countless supporting characters who appear for only a scene or so at a time but immensely help to sell the reality of the film’s digital world. All together, the cast serves the film well, which is always a plus.
The production values of Legacy are worthy of note for a whole number of reasons. The original production values of Tron, from its production design to its costumes and early CGI effects, created a vision of a digital world that remains iconic decades later. Iconic, yet on the surface dated due to the limitations of 1980s technology. The biggest challenge that Legacy would face would be updating that world for a 21st century audience. In that regard, Legacy succeeds. The film takes the iconic elements of the first film, such as the Lightcycles and disc battles but gives them a modern edge. Compare for example the “new” lightcycles with the “old” lightcycle seen later in the film. They’re both light cycles but the “new” one has a less plastic feel to it, as if it’s been streamlined down to basics. The same is true of the costumes which have the same silhouette but have been given both a dark coloring and the ability to emit actual light (rather than having it more or less pasted on afterwords as was the case with the original film). Legacy also has a lot more physical sets in its digital world, called “the Grid”, which make it perhaps a more believable world with a solid feeling to it. That isn’t to downgrade what was done in the original film by any means of course, but Legacy takes what was done there and, with nearly three decades of technological advancement, takes it up a level while still remaining true to it.
Last but not least, is the plot and script for Legacy. The original Tron has fairly been called simplistic in terms of its plotting, and the same can be said just as fairly about its sequel here. The film, minus some flashbacks, is set twenty-eight years after the original. Kevin Flynn, head of Encom and a man apparently on the brink of some breakthrough, disappeared in 1989. Twenty years later, with Alan Bradley now a relatively minor member of Encom’s board and Flynn’s son Sam largely uninterested in the company, a mysterious message sends Sam on a course onto the Grid. Legacy follows many of the same beats as the original film in terms of the order of sequences showing off different aspects of the digital world. That isn’t to say that it is a rip-off by any means. Legacy, appropriately enough, deals with the theme of legacies throughout. In the real world, Sam and Alan are dealing with Flynn’s disappearance twenty years on. The Grid is being directed by CLU towards some secret goal, which CLU hopes will allow him to once and for all overcome Flynn’s legacy. Last but not least is Flynn himself who, with Sam’s arrival, begins at long last a journey that will see him facing the consequences of actions in a world he has disconnected from. Like the first film, Legacy is a simple plot that embodies some sizeable ideas just beneath the surface.
Where does that leave Legacy then as a sequel? The performances of both returning actors and new actors is on par with that seen in the original film, the production values and effects bring the iconic world of the original into the modern day, and the script has the same fault as the original one did in being perhaps overly simplistic in terms of plot while harboring some intriguing ideas. I for one would argue that, quality wise at least, Legacy is on par with the original film in terms of pure enjoyment as a sci-fi adventure. Whether it will become as iconic as the original though is something that only time will tell.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.