I want to love Tron Legacy. I didn't exactly grow up on the original, but I've seen it more than once and while I still find it clunky and kind of boring in parts, it's always been somewhat of a visual masterpiece to me. So when I saw the first trailers for Joseph Kosinski's sequel, I immediately salivated at the updated look, the glossiness of the new and improved grid, the sexiness of Olivia Wilde, the homages paid to the stars of the first film, and that neato Daft Punk score.
All that stuff is great, but it's arguably the best part about Tron Legacy, and that being the case, I was left a little wanting. The story attempted here is interesting, following Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) the abandoned offspring of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who travels into the computer world to rescue his estranged father once he realizes just why his pop's been missing for the better part of 20 years.The use of 3-D is not unlike how color was employed in 1939's landmark film The Wizard of Oz, with the film playing flat until Sam hits the grid. It's something that works well, but for the opening act, I was wondering why I was wearing my glasses at all. Rest assured, though, the transition is startling and a reminder of just how cool 3D can really be.
Once in the computer world, Sam quickly befriends Quorra (Wilde) a particularly hot program who's keeping father Flynn at her apartment in the outlands, which looks like it was designed and decorated by Stanley Kubrick. For those of you who know, that's actually a good thing. Soon it's off to the races to battle CLU, the elder Flynn's avatar who broke free from his creator and has gained the upper hand and imprisoned Sam's dad here in Tron land.
Director Joseph Kosinski makes his feature debut in a visually striking way, but it's also an exercise in frustration from a storytelling point of view. While it's certainly not a bad movie, it seems like Kosinski is more concerned with architecture, automotive engineering, color-coding his villains and devising tasty new 3D pyrotechnics than actually figuring out the best way to tell this story from a character standpoint, and the results are kind of clunky, much like its older brother. As expected, though, the phenomenal visual effects, sex appeal, kick-ass soundtrack and generally quick pace of the updated sequel keep us entertained throughout and willing to forgive many of the film's faults.
One thing I can't get past, though is the digital de-aging of Jeff Bridges. While one could argue that on CLU, the digital frankensteining is rather acceptable because he's supposed to be comprised of bits and bytes, the same argument doesn't work with Kevin Flynn in the 1989 flashbacks. You could also argue that none of the other programs look as disturbingly unreal, leading fanboys to engage you with the argument that CLU could be prototypical in order to explain a shoddy effect that probably couldn't be fully rendered in time for the film's release, or simply isn't ready for prime time yet.
Performance-wise, it's always fun to watch Jeff Bridges, though he is rather Dude-like in this one as the elder Flynn under house arrest, and he gets to have more fun "playing" his computer-generated doppelganger. Garrett Hedlund is serviceable as Sam, and is more of a blank canvas for the audience to latch onto than anything else. The real show-stealer is Olivia Wilde, whose character is full of surprises and is sure to be a nerd's wet dream with her skin-tight black latex outfit, powder-pale complexion and emo-cropped hair. It also helps that she can kick some major ass.
One thing that made me smile was the inclusion of original cast member Bruce Boxleitner, reprising his role as Kevin Flynn's friend, who urges Sam to find his father. Sure, he's under-used, but it was a nice bit to see that connected the two films together solidly after a near 30-year gap.
All in all, if you were a fan of the original, you'll certainly love this new incarnation, with its beefed up dimensionality and new model of light cycles. If you were old enough to remember Tron in theaters, chances are you've rocked out to Daft Punk too, so that's kind of a no-brainer as well. While Tron Legacy isn't the new Avatar, it's a hell of a fun ride, and if you're not taking it all too seriously and don't mind staring at a bug zapper for almost two hours, something you can really get sucked into, no pun intended.