The so what factor looms large over “Tron: Legacy” as it thrills the eye but leaves the mind way in the dust. It provides a visual spectacle in an entirely digital world that’s dazzling enough to merit the extra cash for 3D and IMAX. But even with all of that firepower, when the credits roll, it leaves no sort of statement or impact. It’s almost as if the movie wants you to leave your experience in the theater and take nothing with you.
The movie features a storyline that can be understood only in its most general sequence of events. It’s a step up from its predecessor’s plot – which was about as intelligible as binary code – in that it makes sense and has a simple theme at its core. “Tron: Legacy” deals with perfection and its ultimate subjectivity pretty sloppily; I doubt the writers even know what the words utopia and dystopia mean. And in a year where “Black Swan” provided an all-encompassing cinematic exploration of similar themes, an ugly stepchild is a generous term of endearment for this movie.
Nearly two decades after the mysterious disappearance of his father, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) investigates a strange page in the run-down family arcade. What he doesn’t expect, though, is to get unwittingly swept into the server that his father built where he is ill-prepared to face the hostilities of the computer.
In a world of “programs,” Sam (the 2010 model of Jake Sully) is a rare “user” and thus hunted by the tyrannical power of the server, CLU (also played by Jeff Bridges). Only thanks to Quorra (Olivia Wilde), the protege of the now Zen Buddhist-like Kevin Flynn, is Sam saved from almost certain death or deresolution. Kevin has discovered life-changing developments for the real world inside the computer but has been exiled thanks to CLU’s evil bidding and unable to escape with the information. However, Sam’s arrival opens up a mystical portal to the outside world, and the journey there takes them to the ends of cyberspace, including a stop off at the house of a David Bowie-wannabe (Michael Sheen).
Perhaps “Tron: Legacy” is more fittingly titled “Tron 2.0” as it feels like little more than an upgraded model than a new design. It’s a showcase of how far computers have come in the past 28 years, in case you needed a reminder of that. There is a faint reminder of our primitive past, as the disks containing information beckon back to the stone age of floppy discs. But the facelift given to the world of “Tron” is sensational, and it’s only made more sensational by enhancing the technology with which you see it.
The action sequences are mindless fun scored to Daft Punk, almost like a glammed-up computer demo or an all-encompassing Disney World roller-coaster ride. The light cycle battles are now not only watchable, but cool. The gladiatorial disc fights are undeniable fun. But for “Tron 3G,” which I don’t know how they would do, there’s still some work to be done on the people. Jeff Bridges as the much younger CLU straddles a thin line between cool and creepy, leaning more towards the latter. He looks real in the same way that Pixar characters look real, and in a world that makes cyberspace look palpable, CLU stands out as a laughable anomaly.
For someone who suffered through the original “Tron,” the sequel 28 years in the making feels like a realization of the creators’ dreams. “Tron: Legacy” is the movie they probably wanted to make in the ’80s, but the technology wasn’t quite there yet. (If only they had the saintly patience of James Cameron.) The plot hasn’t changed much, but the visuals are vastly improved. It’s like a dated amusement park attraction with recently-polished passenger cars: the same experience but a different ride. B /