TRON: Legacy review

To say that I have been looking forward to the follow-up to TRON is an understatement. As an eight-year-old I watched TRON on its first theatrical release in the cinema and for the 90 minutes I sat there, I was open-mouthed in awe, so wowed was I by its graphical depiction of a digital dystopia. Back in 1982, TRON not only set a standard for its innovative use of computer generated animation, but also for its prescient conceptualising of computer networks: the film was made in the pre-internet days and the world wide web was just an idea in Sir Tim Berners-Lee's mind.

Imagining a future and a digital world that was yet to be, in the 1980s arcade-game era of Space Invaders, Asteroids and Pac-Man, was challenging, yet TRON still managed to be visionary. The online world of  the "Grid" seemed as real and as complex as the offline world it was embedded within, and a generation of cinema-goers, nerds and geeks grew up with a nostalgic love of this magical domain. Here was a film with a clear vision of a digital arena that hadn't yet been created – but, with hindsight, we now know was not far off.

Fast forward to today and of course expectations are going to be raised; a lot has changed in the past 28 years, not least technological advances in film-making, where CGI use is now standard. Post-The Matrix, and in an age of broadband internet and touchscreen, mobile, Wi-Fi devices, how can a follow-up to such a trailblazing, trendsetting film seem at all innovative? The good news is that TRON: Legacy manages to be that, and more.

In the trailers it was obvious that the aesthetic design of the whole film, just like the original, would be beautiful; ground-breaking imagery perhaps not, but TRON: Legacy's special effects still captivate with their impressive portrayal of the parallel digital world. From the moment we (re)enter the Grid, there is a stunning display of technical and cinematographic wizardry; the combination of live action and special effects are like a glorious digital dance, choreographed to a frenetic pace. The use of 3D graphics in a film has never been so justified: the viewer is thrust into a magical, enthralling universe; it's truly a breath-taking visual feast. It's not possible to describe how incredibly stunning the film looks: you're just going to have to view it on an IMAX screen if you want to be truly awed.

It's also worth mentioning the soundtrack, of course, because combined with the sensational visuals, the highly energised music (created by electro pioneers Daft Punk, who also cameo in the film) is bewitching; the digitised heart-beat of the film is artfully orchestrated to a pendulum of dark bass and throbbing synths. The music perfectly captures the atmosphere and visual aesthetic of the film: it's hard to imagine a more apt soundtrack.

In terms of its narrative, TRON: Legacy has quite a simple storyline: wayward son goes in search of missing father, facing jeopardy, conflict, love and ultimately personal redemption in his journey. There are holes in the plot and some cheesy lines of dialogue, but these arguably take a back seat in importance compared to the amazing action sequences: as with the first film, when you're spirited away by boundary-pushing visual effects, a weak plot hardly matters.

And there are many strong points in the narrative, with a clear analogy between the Grid and today's manifestation of the internet, in-jokes for geeks abound: eg. Encom being an exaggerated version of Microsoft; the anti-establishment character of Flynn – creating a free, open, web – paying homage to Berners-Lee and also to those fighting for net neutrality today. It's not without some irony, though, that while the main characters seem to be supporting the idea of open-source and shared-use software and digital networks for users, the studio behind the film – Disney – heavily restricts and penalises viewers with the use of DRM for all their products, which somewhat undermines the storyline.

In addition, there are a few aspects of TRON: Legacy which weaken its technical and intellectual achievements. The "Sirens" scene, for example, where four sexily-clad female programs dress Sam Flynn in combat wear after he enters the Grid, detracts from the storyline and is arguably sexist: their inclusion appears to be purely to titillate the  – assumed male – viewer. It's also annoying that all the female characters in the film are wearing high-heels, as if all women in the digital future are – or should be – obsessed by looking as sexy as possible, rather than wearing something more practical and fitting for the dystopian environment. TRON: Legacy certainly doesn't pass the Bechdel test.

However, even the few weaknesses of TRON: Legacy don't prevent it being an incredibly enjoyable  movie-going experience and for original TRON fans and new viewers alike, this is a film that will leave a lasting impression on all who watch it – just be sure to see it on the biggest screen you can.

Read our review of the official TRON: Legacy soundtrack

Official Site
TRON: Legacy at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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