It finally looks as though TRON 3 has taken a new step forward – and we’ve been examining the story so far, and the future path for the franchise.

This feature contains spoilers for TRON: Legacy

The hallmarks of Disney’s handling of its long-running, yet sorely underserved TRON franchise bear a similar resemblance to the breathtaking digital frontier depicted in the films: a vast space of breathtaking potential that has remained largely unexplored and largely unfulfilled. With just two films to date in 38 years since the original’s release, the TRON property has clearly never been central to Disney’s priorities for any great length of time. TRON: Uprising, the animated show linked to the 2010 film, TRON: Legacy, was cancelled after just one season and a TV show that was in the works a few years back never made it out of development.

Part of Disney’s uncertainty to commit to the world of TRON stems from the legacy of… well, Legacy. The film’s reception was, and remains to this day, somewhat mixed. Whilst boasting some incredible visuals, an interesting progression of the film’s legacy characters and Daft Punk’s seismic score, TRON: Legacy’s plot was paper-thin, Garrett Hedlund’s Sam Flynn made for an uninspiring protagonist and the technology used to de-age Jeff Bridges’ Flynn looked creaky, even at the time of release.

However impressive some of its elements may have been, a flawed diamond had not been on Disney’s agenda when the film made its bow in December of 2010, expecting it to clean up in the holiday season. Legacy still earned an impressive $400 million worldwide, but with the company grossing over a billion dollars earlier in the year with Alice In Wonderland, Legacy’s performance was viewed as something of a disappointment and Disney chose to use its recent acquisition of Marvel as a means to target the same young, action-hungry audience that TRON: Legacy was aimed at, and well, that turned out to be a pretty shrewd manoeuvre.

‘I kept dreaming of a world I thought I’d never see…’

Talk of a sequel to TRON: Legacy never went away though. In fact a follow-up was announced, green-lit and then scrapped back in 2015. As of last week however, it seems like the next film in the series may have been finally confirmed.

Speaking on the Light The Fuse podcast, Disney executive Mitchell Leib confirmed that Disney has a script for the next TRON film that it is happy with and is actively looking to get both director, Joseph Kosinski, and Daft Punk, Legacy’s composers, involved once more. As such, we thought we’d a look at what the next TRON project may have to do in order to earn it a clear future moving forwards, by developing a similar status to Disney’s Star Wars and Marvel properties, earning it a franchise spot on the studio’s crowded slate.

In a world where at least some of your characters are going to be fairly one-dimensional artificial constructs, it’s important to contrast them with characters with a reasonable degree of complexity and depth. This is arguably one area where TRON: Legacy came up short. Garrett Hedlund’s Sam Flynn made for an able lead character, but beyond his simple motivation to rescue his father from The Grid, he lacked a developed character arc to give weight to the story. In many ways, the film’s narrative path was instead defined by a somewhat satisfying conclusion to Flynn senior’s character, played by Jeff Bridges.

It goes without saying too, that this is 2020 and it’s worth considering Disney’s recent push to diversify its lead characters, moving away from the straight, white male and focusing admirably instead on giving voice to characters from other backgrounds. Whether it’s the iconic shield being passed on to a black Captain America or the ‘chosen one’ in Star Wars happening to be female, Disney, it seems, is determined not to find itself on the wrong side of history here.

It’s perhaps one of the reasons why Jared Leto’s rumoured involvement with the codenamed TRON: Ascension a couple of years ago never quite materialised into something concrete, although the unfortunate demise of his Joker turn following the muted reception to 2016’s Suicide Squad wouldn’t have done much to bolster his cachet either.

‘I fight for the users!’

Put it down to foresight then, that the third TRON film has a pre-built protagonist that is perfectly placed to take the story in all sorts of interesting directions. Olivia Wilde’s Quorra, having been de-digitised at the end of Legacy, possesses all of the necessary elements to lead the next film, not least her role as a ‘miracle creation’, that special status being central to any hero’s journey. Even more interesting though, is the character’s materialisation into flesh and blood, a reversal of the usual ‘digitisation’ process we’ve seen in the previous two films which of course offers a host of fresh narrative possibilities.

Returning to Jeff Bridges for a moment, even though Flynn senior enjoyed considerably less screen time than his son and during his years in exile, had developed a zen philosophy that rendered him narratively redundant for a sizeable chunk of the movie, Bridges’ natural charm and the legacy appeal of his character added a sense of emotional heft that TRON: Legacy benefited from greatly.

However, with the narrative arc of Bridges’ Flynn being neatly wrapped up, and for his sacrifice during the film’s climax to remain meaningful, it’s unclear whether Kevin Flynn could return, unless in the capacity of a digital ghost or echo, although a filmed coda for TRON: Legacy that was contained on the home formats releases shows his son proudly bearing a ‘Flynn Lives’ t-shirt, suggesting that for him at least, the quest to find his father is far from over, (especially as he possesses his identity disc).

Still though, it makes sense to get Bridges involved in some capacity and we’d bet he’ll make an appearance, not least because Bruce Boxleitner, the other key actor from the original film declared he was done with TRON back in 2015 when the planned third instalment failed to get off the ground. How a TRON movie would work without the actor who plays the title character is unclear, especially since Tron seemed poised to return in the next film having overcome the programming that forced him to serve Clu for much of the movie.

Let’s also not forget Cillian Murphy’s uncredited small role in Legacy as the unscrupulous programming genius who would make a perfect foil for the heroes. It’s certain that Murphy undertook the glorified cameo in Legacy with the understanding that a far meatier role would await him in the sequel. He may have had to play the long game, but should he feature in the planned film, everybody surely wins.

‘It’s bio-digital jazz, man.’

Whilst the characters and their relationships were an intriguing but flawed element of TRON: Legacy, much will have to be done to ensure that the 2010 film’s standout features continue to impress, especially given that they also tend to be some of the film’s more marketable qualities. Persuading Daft Punk to return to score the movie seems to be central to Disney’s plan to revitalise TRON and it absolutely should be. TRON: Legacy’s score was resoundingly good and remains underrated.

Whilst other composers such as Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have created magnificent scores that enfold electronic and orchestral music to great effect, (think The Social Network for example,) it’s difficult to comprehend any other musicians who embody both the spirit and the concept of TRON so perfectly as Daft Punk.  Whilst they were said to be angered by Disney’s decision to release a remix album of their score, TRON: Legacy Reconfigured, back in 2011 without their direct involvement, those waters seem to have calmed now and Mitchell Leib confirmed as much, stating that he had met the duo’s manager with regards to making a deal.

Also fairly certain, it seems, is the involvement of director Joseph Kosinski.

Again, Leib name-checked the desire to have Kosinski involved whilst chatting on the podcast, and with small signs pointing to Paramount’s confidence with his recent high-profile work on Top Gun: Maverick, it all makes sense. Presumably Disney is working from the ‘invasion’ script idea that Kosinski was developing following TRON: Legacy, where Quorra’s transformation into a digital/human hybrid lays the foundation for other digital characters to follow suit. Whilst Kosinski admitted to Collider in 2017 that the script only ever got 80% of the way to being complete, if that’s the way Disney chooses to go, then it makes sense to give the director the opportunity to tell his story.

‘You will create a perfect system.’

And what of the effects? Any movie requires umpteen moving parts to come together seamlessly, and TRON is being developed at Disney, a studio who is reducing its annual output whilst boasting an embarrassment of riches in the family-targeted adventure marketplace.

As such, the next TRON film will most likely have to wait its turn longer than most, biding its time for a space on the slate not occupied by Star Wars and Marvel movies. But since Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm, and with it, Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas’ famed in-house special effects division, it seems that a few of those moving parts may have begun to align.

ILM’s groundbreaking use of the virtual set system called Stagecraft on the Disney+ show, The Mandalorian has redefined the way in which actors can interact with digital worlds and if used for TRON 3, will presumably improve performances in such a green screen-dependent shoot. Furthermore, the same technology can sizeably reduce the cost of shooting should the story require a range of real world locations (as it most likely will; Kosinski estimated that up two two thirds of the planned TRON: Ascension took place in the ‘real’ world).

That said, Disney tends not to do things on the cheap, and oodles of cash will most likely be thrown at whatever TRON 3  becomes, in an effort to kickstart yet another license to print money for the House of Mouse.

The potential is there too. With news of a possible TRON movie emerging, TRON was trending high on Twitter last week and Disney’s Magic Kingdom is set to debut a new TRON Lightcycle attraction in 2021, buoyed by the huge success of the same attraction at Disneyland Shanghai.

Then there’s a potential Disney+ spin off series, an inevitable Marvel Comics tie-in, not to mention all of the other licensing opportunities that Disney is so good at leveraging. So by all means, break out the neon and fire up some Daft Punk to tide you over, but know that this once could take more than a moment to come together. However, fans of the long-running franchise can enjoy a certainty that they may not have felt for some time, that we haven’t yet  seen the last of TRON…

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