I remember not liking "Tron" when I saw it during the original release. The story seemed too simplistic and I didn't appreciate the "cutting edge" graphics. When I first heard Disney was making a sequel, some twenty plus years later, I was surprised. I didn't remember the original being very successful. Apparently, it became a 'cult favorite' and this prompted a big budget revisit to the Grid. As the buzz for the new film began, it became clear Disney was putting a lot into and behind this new film. Producing the film in 3-D is a no-brainer, but they have also been showing clips and building buzz at every comic book convention for what seems like years. Does all of this effort and trouble create a film worth watching?
Yes. In fact, I really enjoyed "Tron: Legacy" and with the exception of two problematic areas, would give it a 4 ½ star rating.
The new film begins with a prologue. Sam Flynn clearly idolizes his dad, Kevin (Jeff Bridges), the visionary head of a software company, who fills his son's head with stories of "The Grid". But Kevin disappears, leaving Sam in the care of his grandparents. Flash forward twenty years and Sam (Garrett Hedlund, the soon to be released "Country Strong", the younger brother in "Four Brothers") is now living on the proceeds of the company he refuses to run. Given the fact he dislikes the direction the company is going, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), doesn't understand why he doesn't take control and start to build the company again. Alan tells Sam he received a page from Kevin, from the phone number of his old arcade, long since closed down. Sam becomes intrigued and visits the dusty arcade, finding a hidden room. Before you can say "Reboot", Sam ends up on the Grid and quickly gets thrust into a battle with other programs, all of whom are fighting to stay alive. He quickly attracts the attention of Clu (Bridges), a computer program who has taken over the development of the Grid; Sam has something Clu thinks will help him take control. And he wants it. He wants it bad. Quorra (Olivia Wilde, TV's "House", "The Next Three Days", the upcoming "Cowboys Vs. Aliens") sweeps in and saves Sam, taking him to meet his long lost father, Kevin, who now lives far off the Grid. Apparently Clu has plans to take over the Grid and eventually the outside world. Naturally, Kevin, Sam and Quorra have to stop him.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski, a video game designer, and written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz (Executive Producers and Writers on "Lost"), "Tron: Legacy" is more engaging, better looking and more gratifying than the original. It is also unnecessarily complicated.
Following the prologue, the filmmakers immediately thrust us into the action along with Sam. The young Flynn is a playboy and spends his time coming up with elaborate "Mission: Impossible" – like pranks to play on his dad's company. Immediately after he enters the Grid, he is forced into a battle with other programs and as soon as that begins to sink into our subconscious, he is thrust into a race and he begins racing around, trying to avoid those solid light streams which can destroy your speeder. These three sequences are pretty terrific and happen so quickly the pacing could almost be labeled relentless. This is a good thing in an action film; you never want to be bored. But once these segments play out, it almost seems as if the filmmakers have shot their wad. The next third of the film seems to be almost completely exposition and everything slows down considerably. This bit is also capped off by the three leads riding a slow moving transport vehicle, while talking about the past. It literally brings the film to a dead stop. Unfortunately, what they discuss doesn’t really seem all that engaging or make a terrific amount of sense which helps put the brakes on the action. When this segment is over, the movement has to begin anew and it takes a while for everything to ramp up again. It just never seems to pick up the momentum.
There is a lot of discussion about Clu taking over the Grid and his plans to take control of other things, other areas. There is also some discussion about the role both Sam and Quorra play in all of this. Unfortunately, it doesn't make a lot of sense. Because we don't (can't?) understand it, it seems to take even more time to explain it. At this point in the film, we don't need something to slow things down even more.
The scenes in the beginning and end, pre-Grid, are all terrific looking and moody. Taking place entirely at night, Sam is a lone warrior, devising and executing elaborate pranks. This is his way of reacting to the way his father's company is now being run. Yet, these actions also point to his immaturity and need for connection with his long lost father. The darkness is a literal reflection of Sam's mood and a mirror to how the Grid looks. These scenes also appear to have the 3-D toned down.
When Sam hits the Grid, everything pops into 3-D. This is a nice tough because it helps to make this world stand out and seem more interesting and unusual.
The filmmakers have taken the familiar graphic elements of the first film and streamlined them, making them more modern and interesting. When I watched the first film, it felt like a film that would be cutting edge ten years earlier. "Legacy" feels like it embraces the current limits of the technology. The action scenes are really terrific to watch, especially the chase across the Grid. Much like the first film, the vehicles emit a light trail, which they need to avoid. But in this new film, these trails seem more fluid and natural, less rigid and angular.
In "Legacy", Clu, Kevin Flynn's alter ego is also played by Jeff Bridges, but because he is a computer program, he doesn't age. Using CGI, the filmmakers have created a facsimile of Bridges during the mid-80s. It is an interesting technique but would be better served in small doses. As it is, Clu pops up a lot and has long conversations with other characters. The more this CGI representation of Bridges speaks, the more unrealistic he seems, his mouth just seems wrong. If he stayed in his universe, it would be more acceptable. But the filmmakers also use this same technique to recreate Kevin during the prologue. Honestly, the young Sam should have nightmares about his creepy father.
James Frain (HBO's "True Blood") and Michael Sheen ("Twilight", "Frost/ Nixon", "The Queen") pop up as two programs on the Grid. Frain is a little more interesting simply because he seems more subtle and human like. Sheen's Zuse is an over-the-top character who does some serious scenery chewing.
Garrett Hedlund is good and believable as a young man who would be successful navigating the Grid, a foreign universe to most of us. When Sam and Kevin reunite, Hedlund is able to make us believe in what we are watching, a young man happy to be reunited with his long-lost dad. But he is also confused by all of the emotions running through his mind..
Jeff Bridges returns to this big-screen reboot, playing both Kevin Flynn and Clu. I like the fact Bridges is able to keep some of his own mannerisms and dialect to portray this character. No one is going to forget it is Bridges, so allowing him to integrate himself into the role makes it a lot more fun.
I enjoyed "Tron: Legacy" much more than I thought I would. It is also a terrific use of the new 3D technology, creating eye-popping visuals enhancing already enjoyable action scenes.