USA 2010. Directed by Joseph Kosinski. Starring Garrett Hedlund, Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner. Runtime 127 minutes
Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), CEO of Encom, vanished in 1989, leaving behind his little son Sam. Fast forward to the present: Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), Kevin’s friend and Sam’s one-time guardian, brings Sam news of a page from Kevin. When Sam goes to investigate those news, he is transported to the Grid, a world within the computers, where progams live and work. It is a world terrorized by the Clu (Jeff Bridges), whose mission was once to make a perfect world. Which he did, by setting himself up as dictator. Forced to fight in the Games until he dies, Sam is rescued by Quorra (Olivia Wilde), who reunites him with his father. Kevin explains to Sam that he was stuck on the Grid after the portal closed. Now Sam reopened it. For Sam, the matter is clear: make a dash to the portal, get back to the real world, and take care of Clu by simply deleting it. The problem is that this is exactly what Clu wants: he has figured out how to travel from the Grid to the User World. Now that the portal is open, Clu can bring his army through and make the world of the users perfect. It is a goal that Sam’s brash actions put Clu on the verge of accomplishing. Now Kevin Flynn is forced out of hiding in order to deal with it. Which, again, is exactly what Clu wants.
Let me get this out of the way: the original Tron was a milestone in filmmaking. I talked about it previously. Does this sequel, Tron Legacy, compare?
Not entirely. The original basically invented modern filmmaking. This sequel takes what is currently available and pushes the envelope a bit farther out. Its major innovation is the digital deaging of Jeff Bridges, who can now convincingly play his current age and his 25 years younger self. It’s stunning, but it doesn’t push the envelope as much as the original did.
That doesn’t mean that Tron Legacy is not absolutely worth your while. The movie is made of win and awesome. Because its 3D sequences (the scenes on the Grid) show even better than Avatar did exactly what 3D can do. The Grid is designed as a completely alien landscape. It is weird, it is bizarre, it is totally unique. Anyone with the least bit of design sense will probably want to watch this movie several times just for this. The movie makes perfect use of 3D without having it be in-your-face. Even less so than Avatar, which did have its “look! 3D!” moments. Here, the 3D flows naturally into the landscape and the storytelling. It actually improves some of the action scenes.
Tron Legacy takes the worlds and the characters established by the original and evolves them. It plays with them. Almost all the characters are back (yes, including Tron himself, played by a de-aged Bruce Boxleitner). Most of the effects from the original are seen in a new and improved form. The new generation of Lightcycles is breathtaking, and the new generation of Recognizers stuns the viewer with the sense of actual mass and substance it now projects. There are constant nods to the original, little things like the son of Ed Dillinger (the villain from the first movie) sitting on Encom’s board of directors. A little item that is reminiscent of the Bit that accompanied Flynn on his first trip. If you know the original, you’ll recognize them. If you don’t it doesn’t matter, all those little homages don’t impede the flow of the story. It’s a clever balancing act, successfully accomplished, that out the creators of this movie as fans of the original.
The cast is convincing. The dangers to the characters seem real, and somewhere along the way it even appears that Clu’s insane plan will actually succeed. Garrett Hedlund is probably the discovery of the year. Oh, he’s been around for a bit, but not in any way that I noticed. This is definitely his breakout part. Olivia Wilde is wonderful and charming as Quorra. Watch her eyes. Jeff Bridges manages to keep his two very different characters distinct.
Does that mean the movie is perfect? Oh now. Nothing is. If you know the original, Jeff Bridges’s Flynn is a bit out of character. If you don’t know, it doesn’t matter. What is grating, though, is that throughout he talks like a hippie who left the world in 1969 instead of a geek who left in 1989. While Clu’s younger Bridges-look is totally convincing, it is at first irritating that he still talks with an old man’s voice. You get used to it, but that’s the next thing the digital wizards need to fix. And I didn’t like the ending. The last 2 minutes or so of the movie are too kitchy. End the movie before that, and it’d be perfect. You’ll know what I mean when I see it. Maybe if they had tacked that ending on as an after-credits easter egg…
But those minor quibbles didn’t noticeably impact my enjoyment of the movie. It’s the best movie I’ve seen all year.
Oh, and: you’ll want to buy the OST CD. Trust me on this.
Verdict: extremely recommended. Go out and see it, right now.