Welcome to geek heaven, a.k.a. Tron: Legacy, the sequel to an undistinguished 1982 sci-fi movie about a guy who gets lost in a computer game that introduced computer-generated imagery to movies. In the almost 30 years since its release, Tron has evolved into enough of a cult that Disney has gambled it can be revived as a 3-D movie, with an estimated budget in the $200-million (U.S.) range.
With a curiously stubborn kind of integrity, Tron: Legacy follows what did and didn't work the first time - another weak story with sub-B-movie dialogue, partly compensated for by intensely conceived geometric design and special effects. First-time director Joseph Kosinski is a former architect; the designer Darren Gilford comes from auto design. In other words, this is a movie for your eyes only.
The perfunctory narrative introduces Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), as the son of game designer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) who disappeared 20 years earlier in an effort to save the world from a rogue computer operating system. Sam, still brooding over his dad's disappearance, is a wealthy lost soul, living in his groovy loft, riding his motorcycle and, once a year, playing a trick on the giant technology company, Encom, of which he is a major shareholder. One night he is lured to the dusty old video arcade that his father owned where, at a little past the movie's 20-minute mark, he slips into his dad's game, and dull real life gets transformed. Most 3-D films feel too dark, but Tron embraces the darkness in a disorienting night ride of electric black, blue and orange geometric forms and splashes of colour.
After playing a test match of laser murder Frisbee, Sam finds himself in a giant gladiatorial arena, involving flying motorcycles, driven by rivals who look like people but are really "programs" that shatter on impact. The entire world of the "grid" is under the control of Clu, who has the somewhat rubbery-looking CGI face of a young Jeff Bridges. A former game-playing avatar of Kevin Flynn's, Clu has evolved into a combination of Satan and Hitler, programmed for tyrannical perfection and determined to expunge any flawed "user" elements from the Troniverse.
The real Kevin Flynn, middle-aged, and grizzled (Bridges again), is living off the grid, cohabiting with his favourite creation, a near-human "isomorphic algorithm" named Quorra (Olivia Wilde), a nerd fantasy babe with her hair in a Louise Brooks angular bob, dressed in a slinky, bare-shouldered, one-piece jumpsuit.
In the past 30 years, it would be hard to say that Tron has evolved as feminist-friendly zone, though in fairness, characterization is not the movie's strong point for either sex. As Sam, Hedlund's main job is to squint and ride motorcycles. Most of the human emotions are left to Bridges, the good and evil versions. In an attempt at what we Earthlings call "humour," Flynn has evolved into a cyber version of the Dude from The Big Lebowski. He's a self-styled "biodigital jazzman" who complains to his rambunctious son: "You're messing with my Zen thing, man."
Eventually, Sam convinces his contemplative dad that it's time for all of them to find their way back to the portal. The journey is long and repetitive, with more glowing vehicle chases. There's a welcome detour to the virtual world's favourite underground watering hole, run by a white-haired dandy named Zeus (Michael Sheen) who, upon meeting Sam, announces, in a needless declaration of the movie's messianic theme: "Behold the son of the Maker!"
Still, that nightclub scene rocks, in a techno kind of way. The setting suggests an eighties euro-disco airport hangar, where sleek "programs" nuzzle in the corners to the power pulse of the French band Daft Punk, while the bartender serves big Windex-coloured cocktails. Somehow, the urgency of the escape mission becomes much more immediate. Three drinks in one of those places and you can never find a portal when you need one.
- Directed by Joseph Kosinski
- Written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz
- Starring Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde
- Classification: PG