The following is a conversation between EW staffers Adam B. Vary and Darren Franich about the potential for a TRON sequel.
ADAM B. VARY: DARREN! Being as you’re already on the record with your feelings about a sequel to TRON: Legacy, I wanted to check back in with you given the news that an actual sequel to TRON: Legacy looks like it’s gaining traction at Disney. A new screenwriter’s been hired, and director Joseph Kosinski is attached to helm again — but are you still excited by the idea of returning to The Grid?
DARREN FRANICH: I wanna make something clear off the bat, Adam: I am right now listening to Daft Punk’s TRON: Legacy soundtrack for maybe the 5,000th time. So yes, I am excited about the idea of a new movie. Legacy had problems – Jeff Bridges, God love him, gave two bad performances in the same movie – but I got the vibe that it could be a warm-up for something great, a la Spider-Man 1 leading into Spider-Man 2.
ADAM: [Fires up TRON: Legacy soundtrack on phone.] Ah, Daft Punk. Every time I hear that score, I keep thinking, “Man, whatever movie this is for has gotta be mind-melting.” And then I catch 10 minutes of TRON: Legacy on pay cable, and my mind remains stubbornly non-melty. Which is my way of saying, any new TRON movie has got to use Daft Punk again. Obviously.
DARREN: You’ve hit on the main problem with TRON: Legacy. The music was great. The visuals were spectacular – the best use of 3-D since Avatar. The story was…well, an incoherent mess. Disney franchises tend to overdose on mythology – I’m looking at you, Pirates sequels – and Legacy was no exception, with all the talk about isomorphic algorithms and Messiah programs or whatever. The most fun scene in Legacy was the least mythology-y – the visit to Michael Sheen’s nightclub. I think that’s the road to the future. Let’s see the rest of the digital world! There has to be more to it than just frisbee fights and freeways.
ADAM: Well, I disagree with you there — I thought Michael Sheen’s performance was over-the-top in the bad way, like the kid at the middle school lunch table who doesn’t get that spazzing out was only funny that one time he did it in the 4th grade. But, yes, story was not exactly Legacy’s strong suit. So how to fix that? What elements of Legacy’s story make sense to continue on in a new film? Do we track Garrett Hedlund’s diffident rebel-turned-tech CEO? Will Cillian Murphy be the villain this time out? Or should they scrap all of that and just make it about Olivia Wilde?
DARREN: Heresy! If every blockbuster movie featured five minutes of Michael Sheen going miles over-the-top, we’d all be much happier. (See also: Twilight.) The real-world parts of TRON have always been terrible – it was true in the original, and it was true in Legacy. Who cares about vaguely-defined corporate chicanery: There’s a freaking BEAUTIFUL DIGITAL FANTASY WORLD TO PLAY WITH. I say dump Hedlund and all of human reality, and set Olivia Wilde loose on an all-digital-world adventure. What if she returns to The Grid and discovers it in ruins? Imagine Wilde in a digital post-apocalypse – call it Neon Road Warrior.
ADAM: That would be fascinating, but I don’t know if it would feel especially TRON-y. Which actually leads me to the conundrum of this entire franchise: What is the point of TRON? The first movie was about using the visual language of video games to literalize the brave new digital world that was just beginning at that point. The sequel was about a father and son reconciling with a bunch of visually gorgeous action sequences that oddly didn’t feel tethered to how much our lives have become entirely digital. So I guess I’ll have to (kinda) disagree with you again — I think for a sequel to really work, I’ve gotta care about this beautiful digital landscape. Legacy focused on the vague threat of The Grid invading our planet. What if TRON 3 flipped that, and this digital ecosystem — which I gather is living on a flash drive around Garrett Hedlund’s neck — was threatened in some existential way by our real world?
DARREN: There are two theories about TRON. Both of them valid, but one of them is wrong. The first theory is that TRON actually has a lot to say about our relationship to digital reality. The second theory is that TRON is really just a Tolkien fantasy where the “magic” is gussied up in digital terms and people ride lightcycles instead of horses. I’m a proponent of the second theory, mainly because the franchise is built on the idea that there are little people inside of our computer, a notion which stopped being even remotely helpful as a metaphor roughly around the invention of the Apple II. To me, the franchise is all about utterly unique spectacle: Legacy might be silly, but it looks unlike any other blockbuster made this decade. You’re right that Legacy absolutely failed to say anything interesting about the three decades of digital evolution – but I’m not sure that it needs to. Still, I’ll raise you one, Adam: Don’t we basically live in the digital world now, thanks to smartphones and Facebook and etc., etc., THE MODERN WORLD? Maybe that’s the key to this new movie: How can the digital world invade if it’s already here?
ADAM: Yeah, it may just be too late for TRON to develop a compelling thematic connection to the digital way we live now, but I still gotta believe that it’s possible. (It could be that I’m currently listening to the part of the Daft Punk score where Pa Flynn and Son Flynn part ways, which sounds much grander and compelling than it was on screen.) What if that flash drive got plugged into the Internet, and The Grid began invading the web — which ends up bad for our world and the digital world, and the newly “good” Tron works with Olivia Wilde and Hedlund to save both? Done wrong, it could be an awful gloss on the TRON episode of South Park. Done right, and you’ve got an enormous, Avatar-y movie that also doesn’t have to rely on bio-digital jazz or corporate shenanigans. Am I crazy? I’m probably crazy.
DARREN: You’re not crazy. What you’re describing is basically a safe-for-kids version of Neuromancer, of which I am absolutely in favor, if only so more kids discover Neuromancer. Then again, I’m not so sure that “TRON” would benefit from becoming the 99th franchise in Hollywood where THE WORLD IS AT STAKE. I’d be just as happy with a movie that returns to the relative simplicity of the original TRON, which was really just an old-fashioned Quest to the Mountaintop (or, rather, The Mountaintop Containing The Big Red Face of Doom.) You’d like to see TRON: Avengers; I think I’d prefer TRON: The Hobbit. But I think we both agree on more Olivia Wilde and more Daft Punk. What else would you add into the mix here? What was missing in Legacy? Should Disney pull the magic lever that adds The Rock into every franchise in Hollywood?
ADAM: I love how you simultaneously make the case for a smaller-scale sequel and then suggest parachuting in the Rock. But whether it’s TRON: The Avengers or TRON: The Hobbit, this franchise needs a more active hero — either inject Sam Flynn with some genuine character and hot-blooded feeling, or shunt him aside to make Olivia Wilde the lead. I also think we need more than just light-cycles/planes and neon frisbees for the action sequences — as cool as they were, I would love to see something completely new. How about you?
DARREN: You’re right about “something new.” We’ve seen the neon cityscapes that look uniformly like Sofia Coppola’s Tokyo: What else lurks out there in the shadows of The Grid? But the most important thing that the new movie needs – the way it will prove that it’s a real film franchise, and not just an assortment of the world’s most beautiful screensavers – is a villain. Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy only really became epic when it added in the Joker; maybe that model of all-consuming anarchy is the model to imitate with TRON 3. Maybe Charlize Theron could bring the Cold-Day-In-Hell Ice Queen Persona she rocked in Snow White and the Huntsman and Prometheus, and essay the role of a renegade program out to bring down the Internet? (Am I dreaming if I’m imagining a Hollywood franchise picture with two female headliners? Maybe, but it’s a dream worth having.) The weird thing is that anything could happen. TRON at this point is really more a series of vague ideas about “computers” imprinted on an awesome visual palette. It wouldn’t be off-brand to turn the next TRON into an abstract wordless re-enactment of the wormhole scene from 2001. Whatever happens, I’ll be waiting. And now I’m going to listen to “Recognizer” a couple hundred more times.
That’s our two cents! Readers: What would you like to see in the next TRON?
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