Tron was revolutionary computer-generated eye candy in 1982, betrayed by a rather bland script that was big on ideas and small on plot and dialogue.
Nearly 30 years later, Tron: Legacy proves to be a near-clone of its predecessor, offering the most spectacular visuals on screen since Avatar -- especially in 3D -- but hampered by a talky story credited to Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, former writers and executive producers on Lost, that too often weighs down the CG fun.
In the original Tron, computer programmer/hacker extraordinaire Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) was transported into the digital realm by a corrupt, power-hungry computer program known as Master Control. Master Control was eventually defeated by Flynn with help from another program, Tron (Bruce Boxleitner).
Tron: Legacy picks up seven years after the original movie, with Flynn the visionary CEO of software giant ENCOM and on the verge of announcing a breakthrough he promises will change humanity. Then overnight he vanishes, leaving behind his young son, Sam.
Leap ahead two decades and Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is struggling to follow in his father's footsteps at ENCOM. He's still not sure if his dad is even dead, which is why he acts on news he learns from Flynn's trusted business partner, Alan Bradley (Boxleitner), about a page he received from Flynn's long-abandoned arcade/office.
Sam investigates the tip, discovers his dad's hidden office, and is unwittingly transported into the same digital realm as his father, a place known as The Grid. The Grid is ruled by Clu, a computer program written by Flynn that long-since has turned against its creator. Clu is an avatar of Flynn, and through state-of-the-art technology is made to resemble a 35-year-old Bridges.
It's Clu who summoned Sam to The Grid, where he must survive gladiator battles with Frisbee-like identity discs that disintegrate opponents and speedy light cycles, supercharged motorcycles that leave deadly walls of energy in their wake. The disc and light cycle scenes are as digitally impressive as anything on film, taking the retro charm of the original Tron sequences and successfully re-imagining them for a tech-savvy generation that has grown up on films where physical laws such as gravity are no longer obstacles.
With the help of Flynn's only ally, Quorra (Olivia Wilde), Sam escapes from Clu and finds his father, now a Zen master hermit (think The Big Lebowski's The Dude with a scraggly beard) who is trapped in the digital world he helped create. Flynn has given up on returning to the world of computer users via a random portal because he fears Clu might escape the digital confines himself, wreaking havoc in our world.
But Sam and Quorra press on, leaving Flynn no choice but to join them in their attempt to reach the portal and stop Clu in the process.
Much of the original Tron's success is because of Bridges. The actor brought a funny, playful, and quirky humanity to a movie known best for its digital feats. In Tron: Legacy, however, Bridges often is saddled with dialogue of remorse and contemplation, less playful than it is tedious. It's little wonder the film grinds to a halt for a half-hour when Flynn and Sam are reunited. Hedlund, however, is a wise casting choice as Flynn's son, possessing more than a passing resemblance to a young Bridges as well as the same freewheeling spunk and humor that shine some needed light on an otherwise dark film.
Wilde carries her weight as a spunky heroine, but that's about it, while Boxleitner isn't much more than a welcome cameo; his role as Tron, now transformed into an anonymous, but dangerous lackey of Clu, is largely wasted on anyone but Tron fans.
Despite the film's flaws, Tron: Legacy marks an impressive, ambitious debut for director Joseph Kosinski. In the first 40 minutes of the film, he stages some of the most spectacular action scenes since the original Matrix, with visuals every bit as pioneering as the first Tron. Much of Kosinski's work, though, is deflated by Kitsis and Horowitz's turbid, chatty script that proves to be too serious for a film already steeped in religious allusions and techy computer terms.
Fortunately, the film returns to its box-office senses and delivers more high-tech candy as it marches dutifully to its conclusion. Pushing things along is a smashing, rocking score by Daft Punk, an electronic duo that teamed up with a full orchestra to create a pulsing, innovative soundtrack that frames the film as much as the effects.
Combine Tron: Legacy's fresh score with its breathtaking neon-lit visuals, and it's a world worth visiting.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.