Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Starring Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde
Walt Disney Pictures
Release date: December 17, 2010
There are plenty of movies that I can point to as being part of my geek DNA, and the original TRON is one of those movies. I have very strong memories of watching the movie as a kid and it helped to make me the sci-fi fan that I am today. So I have been excited by the prospect of TRON: Legacy since the first announcement was made that it was coming. Now, after almost 30 years since the first film, we have the sequel. Does it live up to the original?
In the original TRON, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) was sent into the world inside the computers, and saved that world from the Master Control Program. TRON: Legacy picks up twenty years later. Kevin Flynn has disappeared, leaving his son Sam (Garret Hedlund), an orphan, desperately holding out hope that his father is still alive. Of course, Sam also gets sent into the computer world, just as his father did before him, and he must track down his father and save the world.
One of the things I enjoyed about the original TRON was its vaguely religious themes and how that tied into the emerging (at the time) technology of computers. I was very happy to see those themes carried over into the sequel. Flynn and the concept of the users were very much gods in the Judeo-Christian tradition. In Legacy, Flynn is still very much a god with a capital G, but the creators have mixed a lot of Eastern philosophy into the mix. I was a little disappointed that the creators didn’t take the religious angle a little farther, what with the creator’s son being brought into the world in order to save it, as it were.
In a lot of ways, this is the major problem with the film. There are some interesting concepts brought up, but they are half explained or pushed to the side in favor of getting to the next action scene. The biggest example of this is the character of Quorra (Olivia Wilde). We are told throughout the movie that she is a big deal, both in the computer world, and potentially for the real world, but it’s never explained to my liking the reason why she’s important. There are elements to her character that I’ve seen before in things like Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell, and they are done better there, and it’s a missed opportunity to make a thought provoking but still exciting action movie.
Fortunately, the action sequences and overall design of the film make this a film worth watching. The world of the computer is beautiful to look at and feels just like the original movie, if they had had the technology we have today. The contrasting colors stand out and create something that is very unique. No one can get away with using the classic blue and orange color scheme of TRON. I saw the film in 3D and they use those effects very well especially during the bike sequence, and again in the last action sequence. The effects in the film are exactly what I was hoping for. They took the flavor of the original film, but gave it an upgrade in the texture department that makes the world both more believable and more fantastic at the same time.
Jeff Bridges is, unsurprisingly, the best actor in this movie. And he doesn’t do anything fancy in the role of Kevin Flynn. He’s basically playing the character from the first movie and adds in a dash of The Dude from The Big Lebowski to create the godlike creator of the virtual world. However, the film’s creators and effects guys do something fancy in the character of CLU, also played by Bridges. The effects team took Bridges’ performance, and then made him to look as he did when the original movie came out. It’s not always seamless, there are certainly moments when the shots of him screamed that it was an effect, but the result largely works, in no small part because of Bridges’ performance. If Kevin Flynn is a laid back hippie, CLU is the uptight control freak. The difference between the two characters is not just in the years that they remove from Bridges’ face. Flynn is relaxed but scared at times, and CLU is all about the intensity of the moment and trying to exert his vision onto the world. He brings a lot of energy to the film.
The same cannot be said of Garret Hedlund. I don’t want to say that he did a bad job with the role, far from it. Anyone is going to come off as boring when placed next to Jeff Bridges, but the character of Sam Flynn is just another in a string of brooding action heroes, and there’s nothing to make him stand out. There’s just no personality to the character on display, and Hedlund doesn’t do anything to make the character memorable, and the writers don’t help by making him fairly one note. If the movie hung on his shoulders, it would have fallen apart, but Bridges is just so watchable that he brings up everyone around him.
Jeff Bridges is the reason the original movie worked so well, and why it is so fondly remembered by movie geeks of my generation. You could tell he was having fun with the role, while still taking it seriously enough to make the viewer care about the stakes of the movie. He does the same thing here. If he wasn’t in the film I would have a hard time recommending this, but thank goodness he is, because I had a lot of fun watching it and I think it stands up to my expectations. I don’t think it’s quite as good as the original, but it is entertaining and visually amazing. I’m giving this one a very solid 4 out of 5 and I think if you’re a fan of the original, you’re not going to be disappointed. If you’ve never seen the original, I’d recommend that, so long as you’re able to remember that it’s a product of its time.