TRON is pretty cool. Ask any 12 year old boy to name the coolest ingredients to make an awesome movie and TRON’s got them: A computer game with light-cycle motorbikes, death-matches, spaceships, explosions and cyberbabes. And for all its many, many faults TRON Legacy is a film that it’s almost impossible to dislike. With sleek and sexy visuals, a Daft Punk soundtrack and Jeff Bridges – It’s effortless cool! The irony is that by all conventional standards TRON Legacy is truly awful, you should hate it – but you won’t.
As a story TRON Legacy is a lot of empty jargon but simply put Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) has been missing for 20 years trapped inside the computer system he created when his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund), after receiving a mysterious page from his Dad’s old arcade, finds his secret lab and is accidentally zapped into the system. But the digital utopia his dad had told him about as a child is very different – it has become a tyrannical, purist state run by Kevin’s doppelganger program Clu (A creepy CGI Bridges).
In terms of human drama TRON is a void – you will not care for these characters. The father son reunion story is flat and Hedlund is, if possible, even flatter. This of course isn’t helped by some of the painful dialogue he has to say: “Maybe my father’s just chilling in Costa Rica, maybe he’s dead – maybe both!’ and some excruciatingly bland mid-action one-liners that manage to make Power Rangers look as though it were scripted by Oscar Wilde. Fortunately Bridges exudes enough charisma to ensure the film at least keeps some humanity as Kevin Flynn, or Obi “The Dude” Kenobi. (‘It was bio-digital jazz, man!’ is probably my favourite movie quote of the year.) But ultimately when the 3D motorbikes start to whizz and crash and the neon spaceships battle and explode it’s all too late – all potential thrills are dead in the water – we just don’t care enough about anyone.
But then you don’t go to see TRON for the story, the characters or even necessarily the drama. You go for the world it can take you to. The TRON experience is sights, sounds and style. TRON Legacy has the audacity to hang cutting-edge aesthetics upon the most threadbare of structures and almost succeeds – Like Avatar, it’s a testament to style over substance.
Simply, TRON is a cool place to be. Whether or not you are sold on the 3D Experience, the design of TRON is spellbinding. Sleek, vibrant, sexy, whatever – it’s very nice to look at and will get you through any tired sci-fi cliché. While, first time film director, Joseph Kosinski may have no gauge for drama, he has an undeniable eye for an iconic image – whether it be the sultry white sirens, the luminescent hurtling discs and derezolutions or Olivia Wilde lying nonchalant upon a divan – images will be impressed upon your mind long after you leave the cinema. If there are any heroes in the making of Tron Legacy it has to be the art, set and costume designers. And Daft Punk’s tight, if not revolutionary soundtrack, invaluably galvanises their world into life.
However, on its own, simply looking and sounding good isn’t enough to entertain and TRON Legacy only narrowly avoids disinterest. On first entering the computer-scape the film teeters on the edges of impetuousness and noise as we’re inexplicably thrown from police custody to a battle royale and a moto-death race. Like that 12 year old boy it’s aimed at, it could start to annoy you. But for all the film’s superficiality it has a sense of humour about it. That’s not to say the film is funny – it isn’t – but it has self-awareness. It sports a camp cool that is seldom seen in Hollywood cinema and is a crucial ingredient that will undoubtedly cement TRON Legacy as a future cult film along with its predecessor.
This is best seen in Michael Sheen’s, Bowie-esque club owner, Castor. Sheen is having fun; sprightly, sexual and slightly sinister – he easily equals that rare Bowie appeal he imitates. It’s probably the best moment in the film and when you see him the penny drops – what you like about TRON is the preposterous possibilities, it’s a fantastic world and you want to explore it: Meet its beautiful people, its weird and wonderful characters and visit mind-boggling places. It’s a cultish curiosity that only just keeps you hooked even though the film fails to deliver anywhere near enough of it.
So, does any of this compensate for TRON’s short-comings? No, not really. TRON Legacy is visually impressive but more impressive is that despite a rudimentary plot, basic characters and bad dialogue it remained adequately watchable. The film is destined for cult status and there is something devilishly seductive in its style but you could never say it was a good film. But if you’re a sci-fi nut, a twelve year old-boy or you’re just looking for a state-of-the-art lightshow with beer and popcorn this festive season – you could do worse than explore TRON.