Tron: Legacy is part rescue mission, part reunion story, less about the return of the computerized world of the Grid than it is about the sci-fi infused relationship of father and son, two Flynns separated by a digital divide.
We learn early on, while still in the real world, that twentysomething Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) is a trust funded troublemaker. He delights in screwing with his absent father's software company Encom, in which he is also a major shareholder. Sam's other interests include base jumping, driving his Ducati at illegally high speeds and exhibiting surliness in the face of authority. Lured to the shuttered Flynn's Arcade, hoping to learn why his father vanished a decade earlier, Sam soon stumbles his way into the Grid, the digitized world discovered by Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) three decades earlier. As Sam is thrust into the virtual world, Tron: Legacy jumps from 2D to dazzling, neon-lit 3D with a Wizard of Oz-like transition.
After father and son Flynns reunite, we learn that Kevin Flynn was dipping into the digital world nightly to build a computerized utopia, a fantastical SimCity with unintended God game consequences. When Kevin and his digital doppelganger Clu have a philosophical disagreement about perfection, elder Flynn finds himself trapped in the network by his own creation, forced to live in hiding on the fringes of the Grid. The Flynns and a special program known as Quorra (Olivia Wilde) plan an escape from the Tron world and learn of Clu's ultimate goal in creating an idyllic society beyond the Grid.
The movie goer who wants dazzling visuals, but not deep story from their video game-inspired movies and the fan of science fiction with a tolerance for an unconvincing set of universe-defining rules, for Tron's never seem believably presented.
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This Tron starts strong. It's when Sam Flynn is sucked into the Grid, captured by towering a Recognizer police ship and thrown into gladiatorial combat that Tron: Legacy is at its most exciting. The debut Disc Wars battle is tightly-choreographed, thrilling stuff, as is the subsequent Light Cycle race, two games updated gorgeously (and more viciously) from the original Tron. There are dazzling effects throughout, from the orange and blue liquid contrails that light a team-based deathmatch to the pixelated crumbling of programs being "derezzed"—death in the computer world. But the rest of Tron: Legacy can't match that initial excitement.
What happens? Tron: Legacy quickly begins to fizzle with a hastily told recap of elder Flynn's conflict with Clu, the origins of a new breed of programs in the Tron-iverse, Kevin Flynn's exodus and Clu's grand designs. What ensues is a series of rather lukewarm escape and chase sequences set against a sometimes confusing plot. Sharp special effects, some decent amount of Tron fan service and a quirky performance by Michael Sheen as virtual Ziggy Stardust-esque curiosity Castor help keep Tron: Legacy afloat, but the movie barely holds on through its final battles.
What's wrong with the story? Thematically, there are some neat concepts: Flynn losing himself in the virtual world at the expense of his relationship with his son; Clu's Nazi-like military ambitions; God complexes abound. But little of it feels well-explored, just too much to process too quickly. Having a grasp on key points in the plot seems to necessitate a pretty decent understanding of the first film and Tron: Legacy's spin-off stories in video games and comic books. Even if Tron: Legacy's story may lose its way, the film is certainly easy on the eyes.
Yes. Pretty. Tron: Legacy can be a strikingly beautiful film, thanks in no small part to Quorra, played by Olivia Wilde. Sure, the architecture, costumes and vehicle designs are stunning, but Quorra gets ample screen time to show off just how gorgeous she is. It can be obvious, even distracting, as the camera cuts often to Wilde looking magnificent in black rubber and latex while other people are talking, moving the plot along. It's the same for Beau Garrett's Gem, whose chief purpose seems to be outrageously attractive while more important players exchange dialogue. But Wilde, at least, is not just good looks. As Quorra, she's charming, cutely naive and occasionally good comic relief, ultimately one of the brightest spots in Tron: Legacy.
What's not so bright? Computer generated Jeff Bridges, as young Kevin Flynn and as the program turned evil Clu, can be distracting for the wrong reasons. Clu's robotic looks can be arguably justified—he's a construct in a virtual world, after all, though that lifelessness doesn't extend to its other inhabitants—but CGI Kevin Flynn is immediately off-putting. Fortunately, flesh and blood Bridges is amusing, playing a likable, robe-wearing Dude in the Grid who speaks of zen and jazz, man.
How's that Daft Punk soundtrack? As strong as Tron: Legacy is visually—computer generated Jeff Bridges notwithstanding—its soundtrack by French electronic duo Daft Punk may outshine it. It's thunderous at times, perfectly complementing exciting action sequences, mellow and chill at others, great for longing looks from both Flynns at the gorgeous world of the Grid.
Tron: Legacy offers plenty of thrilling action, breathtaking people and places to gawk at, as well as a rock solid score from Daft Punk, but doesn't engage with a particularly meaty tale. Legacy delighted the eyes and ears, but its players were forgettable, disposable, shiny plastic things that you can't take your eyes off of.
Tron: Legacy was will be released by Disney in theaters starting December 17. Disney provided Kotaku with an early screening of the film in IMAX 3D.