That Tron Legacy is a big-budget sequel to a low-grossing, cult film from the 1980s is quite unique. Almost everything else about Tron Legacy is not, from its bland father-son narrative to the biggest Hollywood blockbuster cliché of them all; a movie that is almost deathly dull whenever things aren’t blowing to bits.
Set some twenty-plus years after 1982’s Tron, the sequel finds Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) – the creator of a digital world known as The Grid – lost to society. After building an empire of software, videogames and more, Kevin disappeared, leaving behind his young son Sam (Garrett Hedlund), who has grown up angry at his father’s company, annually pranking the organization. Despite his clear programming skills, Sam has lived off his wealth, more annoyed at the world than anything else. Then an old friend (Bruce Boxleitner) of his father shows up and informs Sam that somehow, someway, he has received a page from papa Flynn’s old arcade stomping grounds. Sam goes to investigate, leading to his accidental entrance into The Grid, where he’s met by a multitude of computer programs that look like people. Some are as confused as Sam is, others terrified. Sam soon finds himself doing battle with some of these programs, while also learning that his long lost father is not only stuck in this elaborate limbo, but that a pseudo-doppelganger of dear old dad is plotting to invade Earth.
That’s a lot of plot to get through, and that’s that just the first thirty minutes. Director Joseph Kosinski’s storytelling tendencies aren’t the strongest. With a listed six screenwriters involved in the creation of Tron Legacy’s narrative, it is not surprising that it feels overstuffed, lumbering between lengthy stretches of exposition. Even with a talented actor like Bridges, there isn’t much Kosinski can do to makes things interesting. That the filmmaker presents all the dramatic scenes as life or death drama that we’ve seen on screen in countless sci-fi and action epics doesn’t help matters. More often than not, Tron Legacy reduces down to inspirational speeches or clunking swaths of dialogue about how important the Flynns are to each other. It is yawn inducing, with a final act that is as compelling as a sponge.
What is far more invigorating is Kosinski’s handling of the slam-bam moments. Sam has several early battles that welcome him to The Grid which are a rush of energy, perfectly scored by the French group Daft Punk. The classic orange/blue on black lighting scheme of Tron flourishes here, finally able to live as a world of its own. People throw buzzing discs at each other, slicing individuals into an orgy of shattering glass that resembles shards of light grasping for their last breath. Elsewhere, a light-bike chase is had that thumps and flashes by with a glee that the rest of the movie almost never matches. Frankly, these parts are ridiculously fun.
The only time Tron Legacy crackles through character is the brief appearance by the spectacular Michael Sheen as a rich, party-throwing man who knows all the ins and outs of The Grid. He cackles with delight over his guests and dances down the stairs with such fevered camp one can’t help but think he’s channeling Tim Curry’s Dr, Frank-N-Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Speaking of oddballs, the presentation of the digitally de-aged Bridges as Clu has to be judged as a failure. In the stillest moments he is lifelike; only then though. The remainder of young-Bridges resembles a plastic surgery addict, with barely a facial movement registering besides eye and mouth movement. It looks especially bad when the actual Bridges – wrinkles and all – is in the same scene.
At its best, the movie is The Matrix-lite, shooting for the same wow factor and every now and again hitting the mark. The majority of the time though, Tron Legacy is forgettable fare, not worth revisiting unless one is bored and nothing is on television.
Tron Legacy opens wide all across Seattle today.