Garrett Hedlund as Sam Flynn
Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn / Clu 2.0
Olivia Wilde as Quorra
Michael Sheen as Castor
Bruce Boxleitner as Alan Bradley
Beau Garrett as Jem
James Frain as Jarvis
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), the son of videogame developer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), is left as the uninterested heir to his father’s corporation after the elder Flynn’s disappearance twenty years earlier. Following a mysterious signal, Sam finds himself pulled into the same computer world that has trapped his father. Reunited, the Flynns team with a Quorra (Olivia Wilde), a cyber warrior, to defeat Clu, a program left in charge of the Grid whose rise to power puts both the computer world — and our world — in danger.
“TRON: Legacy” is a bit of a mess at times. The script is dodgy, the effects fluctuate between pristine and rushed and the pacing goes off-kilter midway through. Incredibly, though, “TRON” stands up against all of its own faults, actually transforming them into a sort charm all its own and emerges as one of the best blockbuster experiences 2010 has had to offer.
Arriving nearly three decades after the original, the odds against a sequel happening at all were pretty staggering. While Steve Lisberger’s “TRON” was groundbreaking for its effects and holds a distinctive place in pop culture, it’s a film that ultimately fails to stand up today outside of nostalgic merit. Disney has even gone so far as to subtlety block availability of the original over the past year, keeping the (fantastic) 20th anniversary DVD out of print and leaving the original to movie-going memory. It’s arguably an effective tactic, but the disservice that it does “TRON: Legacy” is giving off the impression that “TRON” always looked this cool.
Blending elements of the original design with stylish sci-fi noir, “TRON: Legacy” is the lovechild of Syd Mead and H.R. Giger. This is a sleek and sexy filmic universe that would be worth the price of admission for the visual component alone. Add to that what is arguably the year’s best score and sound design as well as an understanding of 3D and IMAX that accentuates the narrative and you’re left with a film begging for the theatrical experience.’
As far as casting, Olivia Wilde is the true standout, making Quorra work on every conceivable level and ensuring her immortality as one of science fiction’s most memorable female characters. Beyond Quorra’s stunning costume design, Wilde infuses the performance with an offbeat human quirkiness that makes her impossible not to fall in love with. What’s more, Quorra doesn’t become a one-note girl power emblem. She’s able to get away with a substantial degree of ass-kicking, but remains capable of playing up mortality as well. She’s not a superhero; She can get hurt and really makes the audience worry when she does.
Hedlund manages the somewhat thankless job of turning Sam Flynn into a cinematic hero. Downplaying the character to the point that he becomes a substitute for the audience, Hedlund’s expertise comes more in his lack of a stylized performance, allowing moviegoers to see the world of the Grid through his eyes. There’s not much to Sam Flynn, but the character works effectively as the audience’s avatar, a performance completely appropriate to the cold, sterile Grid setting.
Bizarrely, the weakest casting link of “TRON: Legacy” is that of Jeff Bridges returning to his original role of Kevin Flynn. Transformed into an Obi-Wan Kenobi clone, Kevin Flynn is played more or less like Bridges playing The Dude and while it’s effective for a few laughs at times, it never gives the role the weight or heart that it deserves. Bridges is actually a lot more fun in the part of Clu, Flynn’s program and the film’s chief antagonist. Though the effects to de-age Clu on-screen go from iffy to incredible, Bridges shines as a charismatic villain.
A huge part of Disney’s re-approach to “TRON” involves spinning the Grid off into a viable franchise, not just for future films but for TV series, comic books and videogames. In this, the world of “TRON: Legacy” solidifies thanks to characters like Michael Sheen’s Castor, and Beau Garrett’s Jem. Though Sheen in particular plays his part with a fantastic enthusiasm, it’s a bit of a shame that the limit of the world’s imagination seems relegated to “Star Wars” aping. We get the Grid’s rogues and wastrels, but aren’t really offered anything that belongs to “TRON” and “TRON” alone.
The Bottom Line:
Despite its faults, “TRON: Legacy” is a film built out of cinematic love for the original and for science fiction in general. It’s a kid’s movie for adults and, while it may be a case of style over substance, the style is strong enough that it’s hard to not just sit back and enjoy the ride.