Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Screenplay by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz
Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn / Clu
Garrett Hedlund as Sam Flynn
Olivia Wilde as Quorra
Bruce Boxleitner as Alan Bradley / Tron
James Frain as Jarvis
Beau Garrett as Gem
Michael Sheen as Castor / Zuse
Running time: 127 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: Rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language.
Sequel offers little in the way of substance, but lots of pretty special effects.
The first thought in the minds of audiences leaving the theater after TRON: Legacy might be, “Well, that was some eye candy.” Disney’s sequel is an immense, vividly hued carnival for the eyes. What it lacks in smart dialogue and nuance—and it does certainly lack these things—it makes up for with astounding visual effects. The original film, released in 1982, was at the forefront of technology at the time—and our smartest computers were still the size of our apartments. That movie followed dethroned computer genius Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) as he struggled to stop the Master Control Program A.I. from hacking the real world. This week’s TRON: Legacy details the disappearance of programmer Flynn into the Grid, a world within ENCOM’s computer system, and his son Sam’s (Garrett Hedlund) journey to save him.
The Grid, it’s revealed, is ruled by Flynn’s computerized counterpart Clu. Clu staged a coup d’état to overthrow Flynn after Flynn commanded the program to create “the perfect world.” After humanoid programs called isomorphic algorithms or “Isos” manifested within the system, Clu killed them all to build his perfect world. Clu forced Flynn off the Grid to live in isolation, not realizing Flynn had saved one Iso, Quorra (Olivia Wilde). Until Sam shows up, the two factions had been living in uneasy separation—Flynn and Quorra in zen-like peace off the Grid and Clu in a tower above his perfect kingdom. Clu plans to enter the real world and create perfection here—something any thinking person realizes would be the end of mankind. The son of the Creator (there is religious symbolism out the wazoo just beneath the surface) enters just in time to save the world.
Sam first has to fight in a series of games involving discus-like identity discs, which when heaved at a program to bisect it, de-rezz it—which in a PG film means to shatter it into tiny pieces. Sam, who in the real world is a master on his Ducati bike, takes to the battle of light cycles (which you’ve surely seen in trailers or in the original) like a fish to water. These scenes are purely eye candy—and worth it for that. The cycles flow along a simulated ground, trailing hypnotic ribbons of color. What’s unfortunate is that none of this is really necessary to the storyline, which is flimsy at best.
As a culture we’ve long been afraid that our A.I. would overtake us—and we’re probably approaching a danger zone when it comes to that (I mean, have you seen ASIMO?)—but TRON: Legacy paints a far more utopian portrait of a computerized world than say, The Matrix did. Sure, it’s a dictatorship commandeered by an intelligence that enjoys watching programs duke it out in gladiatorial games, but with its slick surfaces, sterile platforms, and aesthetically pleasing floating rhombi, it’s a much more beautiful world than you’d expect. Disney pulled out all the stops with the CGI, and even in 3D the movie is grand to behold. The only visual misstep is, perhaps, on the part of the animators charged with restoring Jeff Bridges’s youth, both in a flashback scene and in Clu. Younger Bridges is disarming, similar to the Tom Hanks likeness in the misbegotten Zemeckis film The Polar Express.
Garrett Hedlund’s Sam is purely a caricature. Based on the trailers for both the Green hero movies, Hornet and Lantern, that aired before TRON: Legacy, this winter and spring are going to be packed with movies about rich twenty-something manchildren with daddy issues who while away their time jobless and hating the system before miraculously saving the day. Sam Flynn is also that guy, and Hedlund seems to have drawn inspiration in his voice and arm movements from a Heathers-era Christian Slater (another character who is, yep, a rich manchild with daddy issues). Jeff Bridges, who certainly deserved his golden statuette for Crazy Heart, nonetheless plays The Dude in almost every movie he does anymore—and Kevin Flynn is another version of The Dude. The screenwriters gave “House”’s Olivia Wilde as little to work with as the rest of the cast, but Wilde’s earnest grin and unaffected laugh make it patently clear Quorra’s not just another program. Michael Sheen plays Zeus, an eccentric program who has David Bowie’s glam rock mullet and the affect of Joel Grey’s Cabaret emcee—Sheen is always good, but again, has little to work with.
Disney has been pushing teaser trailers into theaters since early in the year, building anticipation with short montages of action accentuated by thrumming electronica loud enough to shake the seats in digital theaters. The real selling point for many watching those trailers was the soundtrack, made by notoriously secretive French electronic music duo Daft Punk. The original film featured lilting computerized tracks from Wendy Carlos, whose music memorably underscored Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, but Daft Punk brought the new film into the 21st century with their familiar, throbbing melodies. Those who love “Homework” and “Discovery” won’t be disappointed with the band’s latest work—it elevates the film’s tone while remaining singularly Daft Punk.
According to Saturday’s news reports TRON: Legacy did not fare well in the box office on Friday evening, which is really unfortunate for the studios—the high price of making a brilliant, effects-laden flop is painful even to those of us outside the industry. To make a sequel to a critically forgotten movie almost thirty years later was a risky proposition, and although the sequel makes for an evening of tuning out in your theater seat, all that pricey marketing probably won’t draw in lovers of the original, and a Disney movie about computers is unlikely to draw the kids, either. Bottom line: TRON: Legacy, like so many other winter releases, offers nothing substantial, but it sure is pretty.