"Tron: Legacy" is an indisputable visual feast, an expansive epic action-fantasy that does wonders with a color scheme hinging on blacks, whites, icy blues and electric neon. The only way to see it theatrically is in IMAX 3-D, where individual moments are immersive in their nearly awe-inspiring beauty and the top-of-the-line sound system rumbles to Daft Punk's moody, pulsating, even brilliant music score, threatening to blow the viewer clear out of the multiplex. As technically advanced as the original "Tron" may have seemed in 1982, it comes off just as embarrassingly outdated today, its computer effects so archaic and primitive that none of them actually look properly rendered. A passive user of Photoshop with no discernible talent could create the same finished product, or better, in modern times. There's no way the same thing will be said about "Tron: Legacy" in twenty-eight years' time; its aesthetics are rich and vibrant, majestic and detailed, building a whole new world the likes of which have never been seen before on film. If the picture were boiled down to a series of stills, or a moving canvas that didn't require characters and a story, then what we'd have on our hands would be nothing short of a masterpiece. Alas, what "Tron: Legacy" is lacking is a soul. It sure is pretty, but it's also woefully empty-headed, as steely in emotion as it is in its environment.
In 1989, maverick software programmer and ENCOM International CEO Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) disappeared without a trace. Haunted by his father's whereabouts since childhood, 27-year-old Sam (Garrett Hedlund) delves into an investigation that leads him to the closed-down, cobwebbed Flynn's Arcade. It is here that Sam is suddenly sucked into his father's computer world, a place known as The Grid that has seen some technological advances of its own since the 1980s. Guided by digital siren Quorra (Olivia Wilde), he sets out on a full-throttle mission to rescue his father from within the system while locking horns with the ruler of the program domain CLU 2 (Jeff Bridges in a dual role, looking twenty years younger courtesy of some seamless CG effects).
"Tron: Legacy" has been directed by Joseph Kosinski, making his daunting film debut and doing a relatively solid job. He knows how to razzle and dazzle, and when he lets loose that thunderous, hyper-cool Daft Punk score, it does admittedly emanate a certain giddy excitement in the viewer. The screenplay by television writers Edward Kotsis and Adam Horowitz (TV's "Lost") is where the problems start. The plot is total hogwash, making less sense the more one thinks about it. The rules of the virtual computer world and the stakes of Sam's mission inside the mainframe are underexplained. For the uninitiated who aren't familiar with the first "Tron," the narrative will be downright inscrutable. It's difficult to become too involved when you don't understand the cost at hand and the reasons for why characters are doing what they are doing half the time. The script could have definitely used a few rewrites; what has shown up on the screen feels like a messy first draft with potentially neat ideas that don't come close to reaching their potential.
The humans on display (for many of them, we should actually call them "human-looking") are as flimsy as tissue paper. Protagonist Sam Flynn is good-looking, determined, well-meaning, and a badass on a cycle, but there is little depth beyond the exterior. Sam's past and present are cursorily skimmed over, while the father-son bond he has with Kevin is not affectionately established enough at the onset for their later reunion to achieve the desired emotional punch. As the older, imperiled Kevin and the youthful villain CLU 2, Jeff Bridges (2009's "The Men Who Stare at Goats
") reprises his role with ease. The talk about him, though, is destined to focus on the remarkable effects that have shed decades off his appearance, in much the same way Brad Pitt de-aged throughout 2008's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
." And, as Quorra, Olivia Wilde (2010's "The Next Three Days
") is as eye-catching as her role is confounding. Quorra is some sort of digital entityshe's not a live, breathing personso the logistics of her longing to see the real world are perplexing. Even if she managed to transport herself out of the system, wouldn't she be just a pile of microchips?
Dramatically, "Tron: Legacy" is inert, and suspense is limited. The occasional thrill comes solely from the visionary sights on display and the incorporation of an aforementioned music score that is mesmerizing in its power. Dark, otherworldly landscapes infused with bursts of multi-colored illumination are something to behold, while some of the action set-pieces, like a deliriously fast-paced chase across The Grid on light cycles, are expertly filmed and edited. During the stretches of downtime where the plot hasn't a clue how to move forward in order to sort itself out, the film plummets into turgid aimlessness. Dazzling one minute, boring the next, and frustrating for much of the duration, it never quite pulls focus, finds an identity, or builds consistent momentum. It doesn't make you feel, and a movie like this one should be all about emotions. Ultimately, "Tron: Legacy" is best summed up by an exchange between father and child midway through. "What do we do now?" asks Sam. "I don't know," responds Kevin. "We do nothing."