When Tron: Legacy hit theatres back in December 2010, it seemed destined to kickstart Disney’s next big live-action franchise. Certainly, it had all the right ingredients: it was the sequel to 1982 sci-fi/action cult hit Tron, it boasted state of the art visual effects and production design, and it had a solid cast that included the likes of Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde and Michael Sheen.
And yet, it’s almost 10 years later and a Tron: Legacy follow-up has failed to materialise. Sure, there have been rumblings recently around a mooted third instalment, but to date, the franchise remains trapped in development hell.
Now, part of the reason the Tron franchise stalled might be down to Tron: Legacy’s modest box office returns. Although the flick raked in a cool $410 million worldwide, once you factor in its steep $150 million price tag and associated marketing costs, its performance looks a lot less impressive.
And if you believe star Garrett Hedlund, concerns around the sizeable budget needed to produce another Tron sequel did indeed play a significant factor in Disney pulling the plug, especially after subsequent flops like Tomorrowland left the studio feeling skint.
But another, equally important factor is that Tron: Legacy just isn’t all that good, either. Is it a terrible film? Far from it. However, for a movie about getting sucked into a cool virtual reality world that culminates in two Jeff Bridges confronting each other on a bridge – all set to a virtuoso Daft Punk soundtrack, no less! – it is amazingly mediocre.
So, what went wrong? Let’s unpack the five key areas where Tron: Legacy missed the mark and see if we can work out why it failed to relaunch the Tron franchise along the way.
5. The script is under (and over) cooked
The most obvious problem with Tron: Legacy is its script. Somehow, screenwriters Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz penned a story that’s paradoxically too thin and overstuffed. Despite the narrative being bogged down by flashbacks and endless exposition, key concepts never feel properly fleshed out, while Tron: Legacy’s world seems disappointingly small and devoid of life (in both a literal and metaphorical sense).
I’ll give director Joseph Kosinski and his writing duo a pass on the world building front – presumably that would have been addressed in Tron: Legacy’s planned sequels – but the screenplay’s gaping plot holes are harder to forgive. Confused over how exactly CLU intends to conquer the real world with a relatively underpowered invasion force? Or what Flynn means when he says that the ISOs hold the key to the reshaping the human condition? Don’t look to Tron: Legacy’s screenplay for answers.
Heck, even Tron: Legacy’s plot twists are a bust. They’re either embarrassingly predictable – no points for guessing that Castor is Zuse – or are handled in such clumsy, pedestrian fashion – the reveal that supporting baddie Rinzler is a reprogrammed TRON – that long-time fans will be underwhelmed, while newcomers to the franchise will be confused.
4. For a video game inspired movie, it’s not much fun
Tron: Legacy deals with some potentially weighty themes – stuff like the potential for technology to unlock humanity’s future – but it’s also a sci-fi adventure joint. Given the expectations around the genre and the franchise’s video game-inspired trappings, you’d expect Kosinskito deliver a pulse-pounding thrill ride, but instead, the movie is kinda, well…dull.
Honestly, aside from the impressive gladiatorial games-style set pieces around the halfway mark – especially the genuinely dazzling Light Cycle sequence – the action in Tron: Legacy is frustratingly generic, and the overall tone is needlessly po-faced.
Hope briefly arrives in the form of Michael Sheen’s campy quasi-underworld figure Castor – a role which sees Sheen channelling rock legend David Bowie to ah-mazing effect – but the flamboyant energy he injects into proceedings proves fleeting.
Once Sheen departs, it’s back to largely humourless characters heroes and villains engaging in by-the-numbers conflicts, and we’re not that fussed over who lives or dies anyway, because…
3. We don’t care about any of the characters
This is easily the biggest issue with Tron: Legacy: the characters are so thinly sketched that we don’t really have anyone to root for.
Admittedly, we get a sense of who are protagonists are and what drives them, but Kosinski, Kitsis and Horowitz appear to have mistaken broad personality traits for actual characterisation. So, Sam is reckless, Flynn is wise, Quora is naïve – and really, that’s about all we get to go on.
True, Tron: Legacy does at least have a halfway decent villain in Flynn’s scorned quasi-son CLU, whose intellectual and emotional motivations are developed enough that he almost approaches three dimensionality.
It’s not enough, though, and even with the considerably charisma of cast members Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde and Jeff Bridges in play, none of the film’s supposedly heartfelt moments – not even the resolution of Sam and Flynn’s father-son journey – actually land.
2. It doesn’t have anything interesting to say about modern gaming or technology
Just for the record, I’m not the only pundit who thought that Tron: Legacy was a bit of a letdown – it garnered mixed reviews overall. One criticism of the film that really sticks out to me comes courtesy of Metro’s Larushka Ivan-Zadeh, who took the creative team to task for failing to explore the contemporary concerns around immersive gaming and invasive technology.
She’s absolutely right, too. Rather than offer any insight into timely topics, Kosinski, Kitsis and Horowitz predominantly focus their attention on a tired (and none too deep) exploration of the father-son dynamic.
In fairness, Tron: Legacy does feature a half-baked bit of business about the potential for simulated realities to answer humanity’s real-world questions, which could have been fascinating – if it had been explained by more than just a baffling reference to “biodigital jazz” (I think he’s talking about cracking the human code…or…something…?).
1. The CLU visual effects are incredibly distracting
Make no mistake: the visual effects used to create Flynn’s twisted digital doppelganger CLU – who sports the decades-younger likeness of Jeff Bridges – were ground-breaking, and several shots are 100% convincing. However, most of the time, there’s something ever-so-slightly off about Clu’s entirely CG-rendered visage, particularly his mouth movements.
The upshot of this is that most of CLU’s scenes are at least a little distracting, and since he’s on-screen for a decent chunk of Tron: Legacy’s 125-minute runtime, that’s a pretty big deal. Think about it: how can we get fully invested in the characters and story if we’re constantly paying more attention to the main villain’s rubbery lips?