With reinvention aspirations on par with Superman: Returns, Tron: Legacy bites off more than it can chew while still screaming like a twelve-year old on his first roller coaster ride.
Over twenty years after his father, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), went missing, his son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) receives information from Flynn’s friend Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) where might be able to find him. As the majority stockholder of the software company ENCOM (left to him by his father), Sam is spurned on by the stories his dad used to tell him about entering “the grid” and the digital reality inside a mainframe. When Sam unlocks the doors to his father’s old arcade, he has no idea he’s about to visit the world his father told him about. Unfortunately, Sam also doesn’t know it isn’t his father who sent the invitation…
To be honest, the original Tron was light on science, heavy on the fiction. How many fans went on to work in the computer industry with thoughts of light cycles and recognizers in their heads? Tron: Legacy has a lot of explaining to do, and most of it is through narrative, all of which grinds the film to halt many times over. Borrowed science fiction themes include androids dreaming of electric sheep, digital beings with their own souls, the quest for perfection, and the rights of creators to make demands of their own creations. Holding it all together is a son looking for the father he remembers on a voyage of discovery that he has become very much like his elder (insert mandatory “Cats In The Cradle” song reference here) while introducing audiences to the all-new, all-improved world of “The Grid.” Does it all work together? Almost and just barely.
From a twelve-year old perspective, it all makes perfect sense: a digital world where programs are enslaved to play games at the whim a hidden overlord, but only someone from the real world, a user, can start the revolution necessary to free the system. Legacy’s “grid” differs from the original Tron in its primary function; where Tron was the ENCOM mainframe where actual work was going on, Legacy’s mainframe only functions to serve Kevin Flynn’s creative whims. This opens all kinds of questions up, such as who is in the audience watching? What do these programs actually do when there aren’t any games? One answer is suggested by how barren most of the city streets are along with a few programs looking to start a resistance against the totalitarian regime currently in charge. All of it hints at more to come (and also smacks of The Matrix) so expect no answers in this installment.
Besides the problems with this seemingly pointless, incomplete system (that the bad guy inexplicably refers to multiple times as “perfect”), there’s the bad guy’s “plan.” As if the answer to “what does life on the grid actually mean?”, the bad guy seems more bent on getting inside Kevin Flynn’s head than legitimately doing anything heinous. This leads into more plot borrowing towards the end, when the Princess is kidnapped, Luke recovers the secret plans and saves her, and Obi-wan arranges transportation with a Jedi “Dude” mind trick before dog-fighting their way to the hidden rebel base… er, I/O port. Let’s not talk about the light sabers that have been thrown in on top of the killer Frisbees.
Fortunately, the cast is the film’s final ace in the hole that keeps it from falling off the edge. Jeff Bridges infuses his performance with a digital-hippie cyber-dude vibe, stealing every scene he appears in. Garrett Hedlund’s Sam seems more an athlete than white hat hacker, but the idea of excelling at both gives his character a dangerous edge on or off the grid. Olivia Wildedoes capable-yet-innocent well with her personification of Quorra, and while it would be easy to dismiss her performance as pure eye candy, her character saves both father and son more than enough times to warrant her own rescue when the occasion calls for it.
Fans of the original Tron film will find plenty of Easter eggs to please throughout the film: a battle tank on the streets, the namesake of one particular young executive on the ENCOM board, and a few character secrets that unfamiliar audiences will have to wait until the film chooses to reveal them. Tron: Legacy is fun to imagine as a world on the inside might be, a character unto itself complete with a voice provided by Daft Punk’s electronic soundtrack. While it would have been nice to see a tighter, more action-oriented sequel, Tron: Legacy comes dangerously close to drowning itself in back story and narrative, and that’s the kind of thing that should have been saved for all the future sequels Disney has planned (should Legacy prove a success.)
(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)