Just to get it out of the way, I'm going to say this up front: other than to denote to the masses that this film is a sequel, there is no compelling reason for it to have "Tron" in its title. The Tron character has little more than a cameo. Right. Now on with it.
The original Tron was, make no mistake, a landmark in the history of film effects. It was also a box office disappointment and never really gained a huge new lease on life through home video. It might seem odd, then, that a big-budget sequel would come along twenty-eight years later, long after what buzz there was had long since quietened down, but here it is, all shiny and new. Sam Flynn, now-grown son of the original hero Kevin Flynn, has grown up in the shadow of his mysteriously vanished father, who hasn't been seen since 1989. Aside from annually pranking his father's software company Encom, which he could legitimately run if only he'd any desire to, he seems directionless. Things change when he receives a message via page (remember pagers? No? Then you probably don't remember the first film, either.), asking him to come to his father's old office. Not long after, he's digitized and sucked into the mainframe his dad had been developing with pals TRON and CLU, programs apparently possessed of a sentient nature when viewed within the computer world.
I always found the original Tron to be one of those films that had a basic enough premise, but which required an unusually high suspension of disbelief. Programs whose total code could be measured in kilobytes were expressed not only as being as intelligent as humans, but as physical representations of the programmers who created them. It frankly begged questions which were legion, and which the film, with childlike insouciance, wasn't interested in answering. You either went with it or you didn't. This new Tron film is no different, which, depending upon your reactions to its progenitor, is either a blessing or a curse. It does, at least, have the courage to stick with its convictions and not succumb to the need for lots of tedious expostion in what is essentially an adventure story. Arriving in cyberspace, Sam finds that the CLU program has assumed dictatorial control over all in pursuit of a "perfect" system. Kevin Flynn, trapped inside for the last twenty years, lives in hiding with a program named Quorra (Olivia Wilde), with no way to escape. While his data disc would allow him to open the portal back home, attempting to do so would risk allowing CLU to also gain access and escape with his growing army. The real world being swamped with imperfection as it is, the elder Flynn has little doubt what would transpire.
None of this, of course, makes a lick of sense if thought about for five consecutive seconds. To enjoy this ride, one has to be willing to not intellectualize things such as how CLU and his army will emerge into the world as anything other than a string of numbers. Quorra tells Sam of a meaningful event from her past wherein Kevin comfortingly placed his hand on her shoulder. "A program has a shoulder?" my brain instantly asked, wondering what that could mean in strictly digital terms. Forget it. That way lies, if not madness, then at least disappointment. Don't worry about it. Tron: Legacy may not be a brainy movie, but neither is it a stupid movie, which easily could've been the case. Despite superficial similarities, it attempts nothing speculative like The Matrix (though it does lift one intact character from The Matrix Reloaded; you'll know him when you see him), which also spares us from seeing it fail like The Matrix. It doesn't have a wealth of true ideas, though it sort of flirts with a few. By the end, one actually feels a little sorry for CLU. He has no free will and is simply doing what he was made to do, not understanding the objections.
As our hero, Garrett Hedlund's Sam is somewhere in the middle of the hero continuum, not as charismatic as Indiana Jones or Ferris Bueller but well above, for example, anyone played by current go-to guy Sam Worthington. Ultimately, however, he's simply overshadowed by Jeff Bridges, who plays a dual role and is an actor who could probably nail damn near any part tossed his way. Speaking of Bridges' dual role, I could not wrap this up without mentioning the amazing work in special effects that have given the aging actor back his youth. As CLU and as Flynn in flashbacks, he looks much as he did during the eighties; other films have utilized this technology, but never on this scale. I've heard some people claim that the effects are less than convicing. These are the sorts of perpetually dissatisfied, too-cool-to-be-impressed cynics that make every attempt at wowing an audience a hideous uphill battle these days. Fuck these people, who couldn't create such works of wonder if their lives depended on it. Consider the implications here. Co-star Olivia Wilde is presently hugging the upper rungs of Hollywood's hottest starlets ranking for reasons that are hardly elusive. With technology such as this, she could, if she so chose, look just as stunning in a film she makes in thirty years. Teen characters could continue to be played by twenty-five year-olds, but for once actually look the right age. The possibilities are manifold.
In fact, if there's any problem with the effects in this new film, it's that CGI has gotten so convincing that there's no longer that profound disconnect between the real and digital worlds that was present in the first film. This is the modern-day result of something that Tron itself propelled into reality decades ago. The 1982 film introduced the world to the possibilities of digital effects long before they became a mainstay. I expect that the actual legacy of Tron: Legacy may be much along the same lines. And even if it doesn't make all that much sense, it sure is pretty.
See? I got through that whole review without ever mentioning the TRON character's role at all.
-review by Matt Murray