While more visually and thematically ambitious than its artsy, cult-classic predecessor TRON, this long-awaited sequel TRON: Legacy still delivers the main ingredients that left fans thirsting for more back in 1982: stunning cinematography, amazing effects, and Jeff Bridges in two incarnations: the fully matured, dynamic, Oscar-winning actor who has finally come into his own after a roller-coaster career, plus a CGI-ed younger, evil version, whose special effects don’t quite live up to the high graphic standards the new TRON promised to set.
Although the plot has left off being a gift to geeks everywhere to take a more traditional Hollywood approach, TRON: Legacy does not disappoint in its flashiness. It is a sensory celebration, from the fluorescent “light bikes” that materialize out of thin air and conform to the rider’s body, to the vibrant ribbons of light that trail their pathways. The score, written and performed by Daft Punk (who make an appearance in their usual disguise), sets the perfect tone for the movie and lends each scene suspense and exoticism that would otherwise be noticeably lacking. And Jeff Bridges (the real one), wrinkled and bearded, steals every scene with a cool, genuine demeanor that could rival that of any fresh-blooded breakout star. His relaxed acting style and effortless delivery rescues the often-stilted and always heavy-handed writing time and again.
TRON: Legacy picks up almost three decades after the previous adventure, in which programming genius and computer hacker Kevin Flynn (Bridges) gets trapped inside a video game of his own creation and must compete in gladiator-style showdowns — a “user” against “programs” — with the help of a user-friendly (literally) program, T.R.O.N., which rescues him in the end and helps safely return him to the real world.
Now, 28 years later, the company Flynn started, ENCOM, has become a corporate giant a la Apple. Flynn’s son, Sam (Troy’s Garrett Hedlund, whose performance is flat in its most memorable moments), is the majority shareholder, but his involvement consists mainly of childish high-tech pranks that sabotage the new board of directors, who have corrupted Flynn’s original vision. Flynn himself, however, disappeared 20 years earlier into his dark, angular, digital universe, “The Grid.” He became imprisoned there after his creation, the “corrupted” program C.L.U. (the CGI-ed thirty-something Bridges), rebelled against him and tried to make a “perfect race” of the programs within. Sam goes into the game to discover what happened to his father and encounters a world of trouble, as he is pitted against anthropomorphized programs that seek to kill him.
Flynn Sr. is the patriarch of this world, complete with a white beard, flowing robes, and a faraway castle. He is referred to by his beautiful devotee, Quorra (House’s Olivia Wilde), as the “creator” of this dark universe, where those he made in his own image have misinterpreted his message and rebelled. Sound familiar? The only problem — or the main problem — with this anvil-heavy metaphor, is that it doesn’t logically follow through. Flynn’s message consists of embracing human imperfection and relinquishing control, which is certainly not what any Christian God had in mind back in the Sodom and Gomorrah days, for example. Secondly, somewhere the crimes of genocide and the Nazi ambition of creating a “perfect race” get all twisted in with the philosophical / religious message, until you’re not sure if the antagonist, C.L.U., is supposed to represent Satan or Hitler. My brain got a little muddled trying to suss out all of these mixed metaphors until I realized that two of the top writers for TRON: Legacy also worked on the recently-retired ABC show, Lost. Then I just stopped trying to figure it out altogether and accepted that I, as a viewer, was meant to appreciate some vague germination of clever ideas, and not their resolution.
While the plot’s ambition far outweighs that of its predecessor — for which the plot seemed a tacked-on, thinly veiled excuse to make a gorgeous movie — its consistency and follow-through are almost nonexistent. If I had one piece of advice to give this film, I would say, “Pick a trope and run with it, if you must traffic in tropes at all.” Fortunately, most people who go see TRON: Legacy won’t be looking for expert writing, in which case they should have a passably good time, and at least leave the theater solidified in the opinion that Jeff Bridges is the coolest "dude" around.
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, Beau Garrett
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Runtime: 125 minutes