When he was 7 years old, Sam Flynn's (Owen Best, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid") father Kevin (Jeff Bridges, "Tron"), CEO of Encom, disappeared. Now the 27 year old (Garrett Hedlund, "Troy," "Eragon"), an Encom majority stockholder, keeps his hand in things by playing an annual joke on the company. Then current CEO Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner, "Tron") visits, telling Sam he's gotten a page from his father's old office, whose number was disconnected twenty years back. Alan gives Sam the keys to the old arcade building, his "Tron: Legacy."
Screenwriters Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz (TV's 'Felicity,' 'Lost') toss a bit of Frankenstein, every Super Hero who ever kept is hand in corporate, "Star Wars," "The Matrix" (which itself borrowed from the original "Tron") and yes, even "The Wizard of Oz" to come up with a story that exists mostly to prop up the special effects. "Tron: Legacy" may be this year's "Speed Racer" by way of "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" without the latter's wit. Buzzed about new director Joseph Kosinski does deliver the visuals, though, and keeps the pacing surprisingly lively for a tale that sputters along.
Sam's a loner, living in one of those chic industrial garages with a great view and Marvin, a Boston Terrier. The film begins with his elaborate Encom break in, where he will derail Bradley's attempt to sell the company's operating system software, previously freeware. Silliness begins here as a security guard is able to reengage a lasered camera by tapping on his monitor and is courageous enough to follow Sam out onto a very high steel beam. After Alan gives Sam the keys to Flynn's Arcade, it takes a screen or two of typing before he hits on the command to transport himself into the Grid. He's immediately picked up as an errant program by a huge robotic machine and, after being seen to by four Sirens, sent into The Games, where he will fight to the death with the disc attached to the back of his suit. He emerges victorious to discover this brutality is controlled by his father - exactly as he remembered him 20 years prior.
The digitally altered Bridges is strange is just the right way, as, of course, this is Clu, the program Flynn created in his own image to create the perfect Grid. There's only one problem - he's become corrupted, as has Tron (also Boxleitner). When Sam's thrown into a light cycle battle, he's rescued by the mysterious Quorra (Olivia Wilde, TV's 'House M.D.," "The Next Three Days"), who turns out to be his real dad's only current companion, the only Iso to have survived Clu's genocide. She takes him off the Grid to his father.
Kevin resides in Zen meditation, wearing white robes (the disk on his back, highly coveted by Clu, looks like a round fluorescent tube stuck to his back) and explains to his son why they cannot simply make their way to the portal opening Sam's created, but Sam is impetuous and Quorra helps him by sending him to find a friend on the inside - Zuse. Sam's taken by Gem (Beau Garrett, "Turistas," "Made of Honor"), the head of the Sirens, to Castor (Michael Sheen, "The Queen," "Twilight: Eclipse"), the androgynous king of a disco lounge. Of course things go very wrong and Kevin, along with Quorra, will need to intervene.
The film begins with a technical note (how oddly appropriate) advising the audience that although the film is 3D, some scenes were purposely shot in 2D. What they've done is used 3D the way "The Wizard of Oz" used color. Only the scenes within the Grid are 3D. With everyone wearing what look like motorcycle leathers crossed with circuit boards (good guys glow white/silver, bad gold/red), the special effects teams appear already plugged in for green screen. Everything is designed for movement with pulsing lines, like a liquid Lite Brite. Gaming areas reconfigure as qualifying rounds complete. When Clu gathers an army it's like Kosinski's digitized "Triumph of the Will." Daft Punk's whooshing industrial dance score is the aural equivalent, the current counterpart to the 80's tunes playing back home in Flynn's Arcade (Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams Are Made of This"). But the script fails with howlers like that security camera and perplexing contradictions like why would 'good guy' Bradley is initially portrayed as a greedy corporate CEO.
If Clu is Flynn's alter ego, this is Bridge's alter performance to his Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit." There's little for him to do but look a it silly in his white robe and spout clunky dialogue. Hedlund acts innocent and earnest whereas Wilde at least creates an interesting character as the program which birthed itself - she makes a believable action heroine with a sympathetic history. But the most highly entertaining aspect of "Tron: Legacy," even more than the eye-popping effects, is Michael Sheen who has proven adept at jumping back and forth between quality biopics and genre fare when he's not guest starring on '30 Rock.' Channeling David Bowie, his Castor is a maliciously charming hoot.
"Tron: Legacy" will likely be embraced by the fanboys and gamers (who should have given more support to "Scott Pilgrim"), and, seeing as how Disney kept the original film from distribution beforehand, some few fans of the original (which I, admittedly, have only seen in part and not in quite some time). It looks good and moves along quickly enough for a 126 minute film, but Kosinski needs more than visual razzle dazzle for his followup.
Robin did not see this film.
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