TRON: LEGACY is the much anticipated sequel to the iconic, pioneering 1982 sci-fi flick that took us inside the computer for the very first time. It is faithful to the original, while at the same time taking full advantage of new technologies, and while I am sure fan-boys will be happy, as a complete newbie, I found it exciting, evocative and literally wonderful. However, as I'll go on to explain, it's not without its problems - and for those reasons - I think the original movie stands head and shoulders above the remake.
As with the original movie, TRON: LEGACY has a simple plot that is explored on two levels: in reality and on the Grid (the computer-world), and characters exist both in real life and as avatars in both. A prologue tells us that back in 1989, talented computer programmer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) disappeared, leaving his little boy Sam an orphan. 27 years later, and Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is lured into the Grid by an apparent signal from his long-dead father, and both will try to battle a Programme more powerful than MCP (the villain of the first film). This time, the enemy is the very avatar Kevin Flynn created to patrol the Grid, called Clu; and Clu has bent Tron, the original security programme, to his will. No matter - for the Flynns have their own programming skills, as well as the help of a pioneering new programme called Quorra (Olivia Wilde), not to mention the attention of an oleaginous show-man called Castor (Michael Sheen).
The first good thing to say about TRON: LEGACY is that is looks absolutely bloody amazing. I watched it in 3D and what they did with the Disney logo - the logo - not even the film ! - had me gasping. We then break into scenes of real-life as we establish the prologue and the back story, but once we enter the Grid we're back into a world of clean fluorescent lines; dazzling car and motorcycle chases; iconic costumes and sets; and simply amazing 2012-like interior design. I can't wait to see this film again just to, quite simply, see it - to luxuriate in its design. I guess this reflects well on the fact that Disney respected the original designs and the camerawork of David Fincher's DP, Claudio Miranda, particularly skilled at working in DV. But most of all, the seamless use of CGI. Take, as just one example, the way in which Jeff Bridges' younger self plays CLU, retro-aged using the same technology that made Brad Pitt old in Benjamin Button.
The second good thing to say about TRON: LEGACY is that the story makes absolute sense. In other words, the screen-writers didn't mess up the logic or the lines of the original but extended it forward in a perfectly reasonable manner. That might sound petty but I've seen many a movie "opened out" by careless writers trying to over-shoot themselves. Edward Kitsis and Adam Horrowitz (veterans of LOST) don't make that mistake. And whenever there's a nod to the outside world - the world outside the movie - it makes sense and doesn't break the fourth wall. So, for instance, TRON the video game exists in the world of TRON: LEGACY but as an Encom product. Another example is using Daft Punk as the house-DJs in the Grid's End of the Line club. This might've been distracting were it not for the fact that Daft Punk's whole style, clothing and music is so Tron-like anyways that they fit right in.
The third good thing to say about TRON: LEGACY is that despite all the technological wizardry, a number of the key cast members give really powerful, believable performances, not least Jeff Bridges as the young, self-assured CLU and the older, wiser, more regretful Kevin Flynn. In the scene where he acknowledges his youthful pride and his love for his son, as the only true "perfection" that can be attained, Bridges just acts everyone else off the screen. Perhaps more surprising is that Olivia Wilde, as Quorra, is actually rather good. Wilde has the kind of linear, hard beauty that makes her superb casting as a computer programme. And the surprise for those of us who knew her from her role as Mischa Barton's love interest in The OC is that, when given half a chance, she can actually act. As Quorra she displays a certain wide-eyed excitement about the real world - what's Jules Verne like? what's the sun like? - that's captivating and engaging. And the movie desperately needs characters we can feel for to counter-act and humanise all the technology and CGI stylings.
But this movie really does have problems too. First up, first-time feature director Joseph Kosinski uses every directorial cliché in the book, especially in the 2-D live action scenes. For example, when Sam rides his motorcycle up to his dad's old arcade hall, we see his reflection in the motorcycle mirror. Why? What for? Except that's what directors usually do. Moreover, while Kosinski can direct high-paced thrilling Grid battles, he can't film a thrilling live action motorcycle chase. The opening cops versus Sam chase is simply dull.
Second, and far worse, two of the key performances are seriously off-beam. Michael Sheen's Castor/Zuse looks like a cross between an Albino and an Oompa-Loompa and he plays the character like Alan Cumming as MC in Cabaret. His performance is so camp, frenetic and outré, that it's begging to be called "scene-stealing" but instead I found it out of place and distracting. But far worse, and the biggest weakness of TRON: LEGACY by far, is the casting of Garrett Hedlund (Patroclus in TROY) as Sam Flynn. According to IMDB, Ryan Gosling was in the running, and would no doubt have pulled off the scenes of emotional heft with greater depth than this wooden-surfaced, persistently-smirking young man. Seriously, this guy gives Mark Hamill in NEW HOPE as the most wooden, peevish sci-fi protagonist of all time. He truly grates. And I guess it's the director who ultimately has to carry the can for a) casting him and b) not directing him better. If you need evidence check out the scene where he meets his father - the person he thinks walked out on him and left him an orphan - for the first time in 27 years. He should be angry, happy, confused, questioning, bewildered - any or all of these things. Garrett Hedlund's Sam can only register far off angst or a smirk or bland acquiescence. Shame, shame, shame.
It says a lot for the visual brilliance of TRON: LEGACY that I still think it's worth checking out despite the ham-fisted live-action direction and Garrett Hedlund's lack of acting ability. But it's desperately sad that a movie that had so much right, has been pinned back from true greatness by poor casting.
TRON: LEGACY will be released on December 15th in Egypt and the UAE. It is released on the 16th in Argentina, Australia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Malaysia, Russia and Singapore. It is released on the 17th in Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Finland, India, Japan, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the UK, the USA and Venezuela. It opens on December 23rd in Hong Kong and Russia; on December 24th in Lithuania and Poland; on the 25th in Colombia; on the 26th in Iceland and on the 30th in Estonia and South Korea. It opens on January 6th in Slovakia; on the 12th in Italy; on the 13th in Portugal; on the 26th in Belgium and the Netherlands; on the 27th in Germany and on the 28th in Turkey. It opens in France on February 2nd.