Who’s In It: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, Michael Sheen, Beau Garrett, James Frain
The Basics: After returning from his trip down the rabbit hole in 1982’s Tron, tech genius Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) disappeared again, leaving his only child staring out of a window for many a tearful night. Fast forward to the present, as Flynn’s now-grown son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund), deals with unresolved daddy issues by base-jumping off of Encom skyscrapers and dabbling in a little hacking himself. Lured out of rich-kid delinquency by a mysterious message from Flynn’s old arcade, Sam goes into The Grid, plays a few disc wars, rides a few lightcycles, reunites with his long-lost father, and meets his dad’s sexy sidekick (Olivia Wilde) before they all join forces to stop a malicious program from taking over the human world.
What’s The Deal: A sequel to the cult ‘80s sci-fi flick about a programmer sucked into a computerized world of his own creation, Tron: Legacy is almost entirely all digital dazzle and little substance. That’s fitting, in a way; the original film, conceived and directed by Steven Lisberger, was itself accused of focusing too much on spectacle, though its landmark special effects were the stuff of an entire generation’s collective nerdgasm. Tron: Legacy finds an intriguing enough entry into the mythology by dreaming up an extensive back story to fill the intervening years since the events of the first film, but it leans too heavily on a simplistic father-son relationship that fails to evoke actual emotional investment. Worse, it wastes the opportunity to comment on the promises and dangers of advancing technology, something at least presaged by and explored in Tron. It doesn’t help that the characters feel slight to begin with; you can see the actors straining to make something out of the slim script, with results veering from bland (Garrett Hedlund’s flat Sam Flynn) to amusing (Jeff Bridges channeling The Dude as Kevin Flynn and barking out orders as the corrupted program Clu) to admirable in a cutesy way (Olivia Wilde as the childlike warrioress Quorra). Still, with visuals as amazing as these, do underdeveloped storytelling and clunky performances matter?
Well Yes, They Do: Pixar’s Brad Bird and Michael Arnt came onboard to contribute last-minute rewrites to Tron: Legacy; meanwhile, Wilde admitted that she was still calling screenwriters Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis dreaming up new aspects of her character’s personality and look just weeks before filming began. Clearly, director Joseph Kosinski’s priority (and expertise) was in building the ubercool world of a 21st century Tron vs. filling it with compelling characters and story or saying anything of note about the way we live in today’s computer-dependent world. Tron geeks may appreciate the advanced tech trappings of Kosinski’s vision -- and the disc wars and lightcycles and lightjets and references -- but uninitiated film fans will leave with little more than the lingering after effects of a brilliant, empty head rush.
Just Focus On The Pretty Things On The Screen: To Kosinski’s credit, the visuals are as cool as they come. Updated lightcycle designs are sleek and glowy; an early lightcycle game unfolds with dynamic, fluid movements that feel far more advanced than the simple linear races in the original Tron. Disc wars also up the ante with shifting, transparent arenas, navigated with grace by the athletic Hedlund. The costumes of Tron: Legacy have also received a futuristic redesign; expect the fetish/cos-play community to go bananas over the skintight cyberpunk numbers worn by Wilde’s dominatrix-like Quorra and the seductive, plasticized, fembot Sirens who undress Sam upon arrival in The Grid.
The Award For Best And Worst Contribution To Tron: Legacy Goes To: Michael Sheen’s adaptive program with a secret past. As Castor, the pimp cane-toting proprietor of the sleek End of Line club, Sheen serves little purpose other than to jar the audience awake with manic, campy exclamations as the plot plods along. Think Joel Grey in Cabaret spliced with Bowie and the Merovingian from the Matrix films and you’ve got this incongruous ringmaster, saved only by the force of Sheen’s over the top, balls-to-the-wall commitment to the character. It’s a heroic contribution that pays a bit's worth of penance for the filmmakers’ haphazard attempts at storytelling.