‘Tron: Legacy’ is not a perfect film, and nobody will feel otherwise. Some elements of the story are cloudy. The lead actor is a bit wooden. CGI young-Jeff Bridges is a bit hit-and-miss. The famous Light Cycles are underused. The 3D was totally unnecessary. And the product placement for Ducati was unsubtle. However, that is all the negativity that the film deserves. ‘Tron: Legacy’ has flaws, but these are outweighed by the pure sensory pleasure on offer.
The Grid, in which 90% of the story takes place, looks gorgeous. It is a slick, dark world, simply yet effectively punctuated by lines of neon light. It is as alien as the world in ‘Avatar’, but much more striking. Whereas ‘Avatar’ bombarded viewers with layer upon layer of colour and clutter, Tron’s minimalist, neon-chiaroscuro approach allows viewers to identify and admire the individual elements that make up The Grid. The film is shown in an incredibly neat manner, perhaps channelling director Joseph Kosinski‘s previous experience as an architect: everything is perfectly framed, every shot vying for a place as your computer’s wallpaper.
Then there’s the action, which is absolutely spectacular. The most impressive scenes take place in the Arena, a neon Colosseum where spectator programs scream for the death (or “de-resolution”) of gladiators. Disc Battles are the cyber equivalent of playing ultimate frisbee with circular saw blades. Light Cycle battles are a cross between medieval jousting and Snake on your mobile phone. The action occasionally takes liberties with the laws of gravity, not as much as in ‘Inception’ but enough to keep things fun. The combination of the unique visual style with incredibly satisfying action results in a hypnotic 2-hour light show that sucks you right in and makes you forget about the real world.
Strange as it may seem, it is the sound that really ties the film together. ‘Tron: Legacy’ is without doubt the best-sounding film that I have ever seen. Light Cycles buzz and hum like lightsabers plugged into the mains. When programs are “derezzed” (deleted) they sound like shattered glass. Everything has its own aural identity – the wide range of bass-heavy, static effects perfectly convey the energy of The Grid.
Daft Punk‘s score is the jewel in this neon crown. Their Euro-disco heritage compliments the film perfectly, but they are restrained enough not to bop their way through everything. Fast-paced electro is balanced with slow orchestration. Sometimes the two are effectively combined to create an electric version of the percussive ambience in ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Inception’.
The acting is a mixed bag, neither making nor breaking the film. Garrett Hedlund is passable, struggling with emotion, but still better than Hayden Christensen in ‘Star Wars’. Jeff Bridges does a good job with his two characters, simultaneously playing a tragic version of The Dude and a ruthless megalomaniac. In a marmite homage to David Bowie, Michael Sheen prances through his scenes, which will amuse some but irritate others. Olivia Wilde gives the best performance as Quorra, a warrior-princess style program with an interesting child-like innocence.
Reactions to the original ‘Tron’ was mixed. Some felt that it pushed the boundaries of cinematic spectacle, but some found it a hollow experience, accusing it of being all style, no substance. But the same thing happened with ‘Fantasia’ and ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. It seems that films with an emphasis on visual style have a tendency to generate polarised reactions, the contrast of which is not necessarily a comment on a film’s quality. ‘Tron: Legacy’ follows this trend.
Many will criticise the lack of narrative substance, but there is enough to keep the story of ‘Tron: Legacy’ moving. Its strength lies in its value as an audio-visual feast. It would be foolish to expect otherwise.