All that glows is not gold in Tron: Legacy -- a whiz-pow dark overhaul of the beloved prisma-colored '80s relic that delivers in sights and sounds but ultimately fails when held up to scrutiny. It's not as if the original was spotless, but even without its singular aesthetics -- and admittedly hazy concepts -- the plot held real-world stakes and a charismatic lead to guide the viewer along the way. Flash-forward to 2010 -- popcorn movies now come with dark 3D glasses to match much of the cinema's dark tone, with boring new talent weaving their way through needlessly convoluted plots. Yes, it's a different landscape -- and a different movie, fair enough. The thing is that Legacy aspires to be something unique -- a dynamic game-changer in the same way its predecessor was, though somewhere along the way, the ideas behind it became half-cooked, with resources delegated more toward uncanny CG faces rather than fleshing out a story with unlimited potential.
If the first film was an allegory to technology dangerously broadening beyond its initial programming -- at a time before the world was interconnected via the information super-highway -- then surely this follow-up would expand on that rationale, right? Not so fast. Indeed, much of Legacy has nothing to do with the techno-culture of today. The reasons behind this are unclear; in fact, much of the motivation behind the production -- and its characters -- is puzzling. To understand that, one must start with the plot.
Jeff Bridges reprises his role as Kevin Flynn, a wealthy game designer and software pioneer whose disappearance 15 years ago still haunts his son, Sam (played by newcomer Garrett Hedlund). Though Sam was told about his father's time in the Grid -- an alternate dimension that Kevin created where human programmers interact with their programs -- he's never experienced it firsthand. When his father's old business partner Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) receives a page from Kevin's old arcade/office, Sam goes to investigate and unknowingly gets sucked into the Grid after triggering a laser much like the one that zapped his dad into the techno-world before. Thus, the alternate reality adventure begins -- with Sam seeking to find his father and bring him back to the real world as the Grid's evil overlord, Clu (who was modeled after his father's image), and his henchman, Tron (yes, the hero from the original), hunt them both down. Along the way, Sam is made to play more complicated variations on the same games from the original before hooking up with Quorra (Olivia Wilde), a pupil of Kevin Flynn, who helps reunite Sam with his father -- who, as it turns out, is a near-godlike hippie.
Simple enough, eh? Legacy has all the trappings of a stereotypical modern movie tale: a baffled bro dude, a hot vixen who kicks butt, a villain whose appearance is a technological wonder, and a talented veteran actor who channels not one, but two of his previous characters. Indeed, hints of "The Dude" can be found in Bridges' return to Tron-land. If that doesn't make sense, there's plenty more where that came from. Why does Clu turn on his maker? Why does Tron turn evil? The list of baffling questions goes on, which shouldn't surprise anyone given the fact that Lost writers Adam Horowitz and Eddie Kitsis are behind the script.
And it's with the script that the film truly fails. Legacy may, and probably will, satisfy audiences looking for an extended music video. In fact, Daft Punk's involvement provides some grandiose sonic stylings, even if their short moments of fun are too fleeting in comparison to their darker stringed pieces. Once one looks past the film's artistic palate, however, there's not much there. The actors themselves help -- and equally hurt -- the production. Wilde injects some much-needed energy into the proceedings, as Hedlund is usually staring off at something with puppy-dog eyes when he's not throwing out half-humorous fish-out-of-water quips. Bridges seems just a bit off, with his Clu not really registering as a full performance and his Kevin Flynn seeming as if he's been hitting the plasma bong while he's been MIA.
Ultimately, the movie's faults must be traced back to first-time director Joe Kosinski, who obviously has a knack for visuals -- yet for all his work, there's not one thing in the new film that nearly lives up to the tanks' spinning cockpits in the original. A lot of the rest of the film complicates the simple iconography of what's been done before -- to mixed results. To acute viewers, Kosinski's role seems to have been to reboot the franchise with new technology and not a lot of new ideas. Frankly, the technology onscreen just isn't that great -- the CG-faced Clu being the worst culprit. And the less that's said about the uneven pacing, the better.
In the end, Tron: Legacy feels too much like a starting block (Cillian Murphy's cameo nearly solidifies his villainous duties in the future). With the advice of the likes of Pixar's head honchos and David Fincher (both were given sneak peeks before a critical block of reshoots), the film was slightly beefed up in heart, but not in smarts. Given the right balance, this property could find life beyond its cool factor. For now, Legacy remains a very expensive missed opportunity.