To be brutally honest, Tron never connected with me. Having seen it theatrically in 1982 and occasionally on DVD in the following years, the original has always remained an impressive looking movie, but emotionally cold and at times, plodding. Nearly thirty years later, the sequel, Tron: Legacy, continues the story with even more incredible visual effects, though ultimately to the same end result.
Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) is the rebellious son of the long-disappeared game programmer Kevin Flynn (reprised by Jeff Bridges). When Kevin’s old friend Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) sends Sam to investigate a mysterious pager message, Sam discovers his father’s secret hard drive, is shot with a laser beam, and sucked into The Grid.
There, he must rescue his father and escape the virtual world through a portal, while avoiding a rogue program named Clu — a younger, digitized Bridges — determined to find Kevin and steal his “identity disc” so that it/he may use the information to escape into the real world (and presumably wreak havoc… somehow). This doesn’t seem particularly threatening, but like other logistic problems of this simple plot, it is best to not to think hard about the details.
Amusingly, the opening real world sequences are presented in flat 2D, until Sam enters the computer world that bursts to tactile life in the third dimension. The updated production design and game scenes, which involve an elaborate discus playoff, a fast-paced lightcycle race, and an aerial chase in flying apparatuses break free from typical two dimensional video game environments. These scenes are zippy, fun and entertaining. The digitized Clu still doesn’t resemble an actual human being, but works well enough in the context of being a lifelike program. The rousing score by Daft Punk perfectly encapsulates the digital world with its thumping beats, resembling a dance remix of Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack.
But between these moments remains a lot of awkward exposition. Characters spend minutes on end explaining how the world they inhabit came to be, describing apocalyptic system purges, isomorphic programs and more technical jargon that slows the pacing considerably. As a non-expert in the Tron world, these bits are tough to follow while many of the computer program characters (like Olivia Wilde‘s Quorra) and their digital plights are difficult to relate to emotionally.
Perhaps attempting to combat this problem, Bridges presents a new take on his Flynn character, infusing him with hippie shaman characteristics. His tendency to throw in a relaxed “Hey man” now and again and use a jazz analogy to describe his programming in between the techno babble is worthy of a few chuckles. Pot inside the mainframe must be even more powerful than in the real world. Michael Sheen also camps it up in the game world as Zuse, breathing a bit of bizarre life into the icy surroundings.
It truly is difficult to say whether the incredible, one-of-a-kind visuals of Tron: Legacy make up for the most perfunctory and bland of plots. Ultimately, fans of the original film who have been eagerly anticipating the three year build up will at least enjoy what they see. The rest all depends on how nostalgic you might feel about the original. Obviously, Tron was never an important film in my childhood. Guess I’ll have to hold out for an updated, special effects laden follow-up to The Last Starfighter – that’s a sequel that I could get enthusiastic about.
3 out of 5