Tron: Legacy (2010)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 12/17/10
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Music: Daft Punk
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, Beau Garrett, Michael Sheen

Who would have imagined that the box office flop "Tron" (1982) would spawn a sequel 28 years later? And based on its $170 million budget, this one will probably be a flop as well. After the events in "Tron," Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) gets married and has a kid named Sam (Garrett Hedlund). Having appropriated the laser scanning technology from the first film, he regularly zaps himself back into the digital realm in order to build the perfect world. To help him realize his vision of Utopia, Flynn creates a helper program named Clu 2.0 and enlists the aid of Tron (Bruce Boxleitner). But one night, Flynn didn't come home, which shattered the future of both Encom and the young Sam. Now as a restless and irresponsible adult, Sam gets zapped into The Grid to try and rescue his trapped and disillusioned father, whose pride, arrogance, and ambition have failed everyone he loves.

Sadly, the film is a bit of a disappointment and not nearly as revolutionary or visually interesting as the original. I think the problem is that as computer graphics continue to strive for photo-realism, they don't look like computer graphics anymore. That's not to say that "Tron: Legacy" doesn't look interesting, because it does, but it lacks the abstract aesthetic appeal and mind-blowing visual language of the original. The film plays the nostalgia card pretty heavily, and without that, it would be a complete mess. The script is terrible and the dialog is pretty poor, but I have to keep reminding myself that even though I loved "Tron," as a movie it was pretty bad. Thankfully, "Legacy" improves greatly with multiple viewings, once I dismissed my expectations and could focus on the details instead.

The art direction is nice, but definitely more "Blade Runner" (1982) than "Tron." Possibly the creepiest and most unsettling aspect of the film is the reversed aging effects applied to Jeff Bridges. It's as fascinating as it is unsettling, and is an excellent example of the Uncanny Valley. You can't take your eyes off of him because your brain knows that something just isn't right. Flynn's transformation from computer hacker to burned out spiritual guru is also unpleasant, and Bridges is visibly uncomfortable with the awful dialog he has to work with. Garrett Hedlund does a decent job, but his character is annoying and his dialog is grating. The only interesting character in the film is Flynn's young protégé, Quorra (Olivia Wilde). Her wide-eyed innocence is matched only by her superb combat skills, and she's the key to Flynn's (and possibly the world's) salvation. At first, her naïve and youthful enthusiasm comes off as completely inappropriate and out of place in the digital frontier, but it eventually makes sense. Unfortunately, she suffers from a terrible haircut and hideous shoes. Gem's (Beau Garrett) shoes are even worse, but we only get to see them a couple of times.

Daft Punk's music score is pretty good and sounds like the electronic compositions of "The Terminator" (1984) crossed with the oppressively heavy tones of "Inception" (2010). In a tip to the original, Journey is also on the soundtrack. There are lots of little nods and winks to the original film - some of them work and some of them don't. Seeing the Disney castle logo rendered in blue neon was so emotionally powerful that it made me cry. The action scenes are pretty exciting and full of great eye candy, with the highlight of the film being a high-speed light cycle battle. Unfortunately, this happens early on in the film, and nothing else lives up to it. Overall, if you're a "Tron" fan, "Tron: Legacy" is definitely worth checking out for its nostalgia value. Otherwise, it's simply a good looking big budget sci-fi action film.