The original TRON was most impressive as a demonstration of technology that was, for the most part, still lingering just over the horizon. It was more of a demo reel with a plot, fondly remembered by the geeks who were wowed by its then-revolutionary visuals and couldn’t be bothered by the lack of an engaging story.
This sequel, thirty years after the fact, is born into a world where movies like the Star Wars prequels and the Lord of the Rings trilogy and a whole host of others have taken the embryonic techniques of that 1982 film and gone far beyond. TRON: Legacy can’t simply rely on mind-blowing visuals to keep our eyeballs happy. It needs to have a story to match. If only.
The sequel picks up twenty years after the hero of the first movie, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), disappeared into thin air, leaving behind an orphaned son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) and Encom, his company, in chaos. The son has grown into a bit of a wise ass who gets his jollies punking his dad’s old company on the night of their big announcement.
His dad’s old partner from the first movie, Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) drops in on Sam with some surprising news: he’s received a page from the supposedly disconnected phone in Kevin’s old arcade, which has conveniently sat empty, but with electricity, for the whole twenty years. For reasons not adequately explored in the story, Sam pays the old joint a visit, finds a hidden room with his father’s old system still running and, before he knows in, he’s been downloaded into the computer “grid,” just like his dad was in the first movie, finding himself in a strange world that appears to be ruled with an iron fist by someone who looks a lot like Jeff Bridges 30 years ago.
Sam is captured and sentenced to the “game grid” where “programs” fight to the death in gladiatorial games, but is rescued by a pretty program named Quorra (Olivia Wilde), who takes him to where, it turns out, his father has been been hiding. That’s right. The Dude has been abiding in cyberspace the whole time.
The storyline is fairly straightforward, uncomplicated, and like the government, borrows quite liberally from many sources: Star Wars, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, and the last several Steve Jobs press conferences.
The world they have created is, not surprisingly, visually dazzling, but wasted by the lack of a compelling narrative. If I had a complaint, it’s that the world inside the computer almost seems too real, not computer-y enough. Except, that is, for Jeff Bridges’ digital clone, Clu. They still haven’t solved the problem they had in Beowulf and The Polar Express, where the realistic motion-captured characters are just one or two creepy steps away from lifelike. This wouldn’t be such a problem if Clu weren’t the central villain in the movie.
Garrett Hedlund brings a lot of energy to a role that doesn’t have a lot of substance, while Olivia Wilde is appealing as an ass-kicking but oddly child-like program with a secret. Jeff Bridges steps effortlessly back into the role of Flynn, but like Hedlund, isn’t given a lot to work with. The seemingly omnipresent Michael Sheen takes a break from playing every famous English person of the last half-century for a memorable turn as a flamboyant program who’s not as helpful as he should be.
If there’s a performance that stands out from the light show, it’s Bruce Boxleitner’s. Without a lot of screen time, he manages to invest the character of Bradley with a strange combination of sadness and optimism, an ever-hopeful Peter to the missing quasi-Jesus figure.
I suppose that, when most of the advertising I saw focused on who was doing the soundtrack, I shouldn’t have expected very much and “not much” is what you get here.