I think how much you enjoy Tron: Legacy ultimately depends on two things: how much you dig the 80’s and Daft Punk. Overall, I found it to be a very fun experience, but with the flaws of a lot of modern blockbusters.
First, let me say that the visuals are astounding. They are rich and vibrant, a real treat to see. It’s a fun aesthetic, and this movie definitely tries to make the most of it. The costumes, vehicles, and buildings are all interesting to see, and the action sequences are a blast. This does for 80s science fiction/video game movies what The Expendables did for 80s action films.
Secondly, the score is astoundingly good. I know a lot of music types were a tad disappointed in the music itself (released a week or two before the film) because it’s not really a proper Daft Punk album. However, the film was obviously tailor-made for this score. It just fits together so well. In some ways, the score makes up for some of the finer points of the story, because every time the music turned up, so did my pulse. It may end up being my favorite score of the year.
In terms of overall tone, any of the 80’s revivals/reboots we’ve seen, Tron: Legacy feels the most like an 80’s movie. It is weird and strange in a way that movies today just aren’t. The plots of many of those films, like The Last Starfighter, The Money Pit, Back to the Future, Weird Science, etc. are odd, contrived, and offbeat in a way that movies don’t seem allowed to be anymore. Of course, at it’s heart, this is a movie about fathers and sons, and what people need from their parents.
Now I have to say I had pretty low expectations coming into this film on the story side. All I really wanted was lightcycles, because let’s face it, they are one of the coolest things in any film, ever. And lightcycles I got, and lightjets, lightcars, and backpacks with wings! Yay! The story itself is a lot simpler the original Tron, and I think that is a good thing here. Rather than treat the computer world like the computers we know today (what would an iTunes program look like in humanoid form? Software today has a lot more designers than programs did in 1982), it treats it more like Oz, a place that can be visited and where we find out more about ourselves and what we want in the real world. This is a story, that like Avatar, doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before, but relies on a unique visual aesthetic to further the audience’s immersion.
If anything was a let down, it was that there wasn’t any impact between the real world and the world of the computer. While this made the plot of the original more convoluted, I think it gave everything that happened inside the computer more meaning. Here there is the vague threat of Clu and his army going all Skynet, but that’s kind of a minor detail.
Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), our hero from the original, has been trapped for 20 years in this world, and has basically become The Dude, resigning himself to maintaining his Zen rather than face the power. And that power is the new Clu (also Jeff Bridges) who Kevin designed to run the system when he wasn’t able to, but eventually decided to take over because humans (users) are stupid. So 20 years later, it’s up to his son to rescue him and have his Hero’s Journey along the way. I didn’t find fault with Garrett Hedlund’s performance at all, however the highlights of the film for me was Olivia Wilde as Quorra. She’s supercute in the movie, and her wide-eyed fascination with everything brings a lot to the proceedings. I also enjoyed Michael Sheen’s Caster as a glam rock club owner, although I found cutting to him repeatedly during the one fight sequence distracting.
While I admit this is not a “great film,” I don’t understand some of the passionate hatred flung toward it either. Overall, this is the kind of movie you go out to the theater to see. It’s fun entertainment, never boring, and a visual experience you can’t replicate at home.
For more on the original Tron, check out Katey Rich’s reaction to just seeing it for the first time.