Just when it seems like filmmakers have milked nearly every angle of it, the father-son themed story comes back for another go-around. In Disney’s TRON: Legacy, the father is played by Jeff Bridges and the son by Garrett Hedlund, both actors give a laudable performance despite a thin and convoluted storyline. The valiant efforts, aided by a heart-pumping score by French techno duo Daft Punk and absolutely mind-blowing visuals, elevate TRON: Legacy to an enjoyable and memorable diversion.
A fun alternative to the current heavy-hearted award season fare, TRON traces the journey of Hedlund’s Sam Flynn, a 20-something slacker who is the son of a vanished virtual world designer. Upon receiving a message on his beeper, Sam makes his way to his dad’s abandoned arcade, where he is sucked into a digital world known as The Grid, designed by his father. Instantly, Sam finds himself thrown into an arena pitted against other “competitors.” Following a truly astounding sound and light show of action, Sam is swept up by Quorra (Olivia Wilde) and brought to a mansion on the outskirts of the futuristic Grid. It is here that Kevin Flynn (Bridges) is reunited with his son after nearly 20 years. From this moment on, the movie’s plot loses its footing. It is obvious that Flynn’s desire is to topple Clu (also Bridges), Kevin’s doppelganger creation who was invented to help him run the Grid but runs amok in the interest of “making the best possible world” (which one can’t help but think is a sly reference to Voltaire’s Candide).
Additionally, the plot merely skims a number of storylines. It touches upon a second race of “people” in the Grid, who manifested themselves but were wiped out by Clu some years ago. Allusions are made to Grid’s co-creator, Tron himself, but this plot is for the most part abandoned. Meanwhile, Quorra and Sam are given a throwaway type romance that never really fleshes itself out. Finally, Sam and his father scramble to reach the portal back to reality before it closes (which I suppose is the main plot, but the film changes its mind too many times to tell). As Quorra, Wilde brings a sense of humanity to the otherwise disappointing one-sided character. With Wilde, however, one can’t help but to sympathize with the girl whose sole, Pinocchio-esque wish in her “life” is to be a real girl.
TRON: Legacy shines with its visuals. The revolutionary special effects are dazzling, as frisbees of light are frenetically hurled across the screen and light cycles zip around the arena. The use of 3-D is beautifully done, not just for the sake of things popping out at one’s face, but for seamlessly and elegantly being integrated into the film without ruining its integrity.
Daft Punk’s incredible soundtrack pulses with urgency in the action scenes, but finds its footing best in (somewhat ironically) a club scene. It brings chills to hear the tracks “End of Line” and “Derezzed,” the two most similar to Daft Punk’s previous material. In the club, catching an all too brief glimpse of the helmet-headed duo is likewise as big a thrill as watching Michael Sheen strut across the club like the lovechild of David Bowie and Grace Jones. His outlandish and ambiguous nightclub denizen, Castor, cheekily walks away with the scene in a LED-striped suit and a sparkling cane, the likes of which would scare off Lady Gaga. Sheen shares the scene with Beau Garrett’s Gem, a sleek cyborg woman who plays his deviously straight-faced and coldly cunning counterpart. The pair leaves the most lasting impression in the whole film, a startling accomplishment for a scene so brief.
It would be an incomplete review without further discussing Bridges’ appearance. Doing double duty as Clu (with the assistance of Benjamin Button type de-aging animation) and Kevin, Bridges showcases two very different characters. As Clu, the actor seems to be constantly on the verge of bursting into flames, his eyes flashing with fury. It speaks to Bridges’ ability as an actor to be able to turn what is essentially an animated representation of himself into a grotesque and treacherous villain worth fearing. The audience finds the Bridges it knows and loves in Kevin Flynn, a grizzly and weathered man rife with mannerisms straight out of the Academy Award winner’s hit film The Big Lebowski. Every time Flynn utters a variation of “You just gotta chill out, man!” the knowing moviegoers are left with a grin on their faces.
Thus, as a story, TRON: Legacy is weak and unfulfilling, but Bridges, Daft Punk, and some killer special effects elevate it to a worthwhile moviegoing experience. Though certainly not one of the best movies of the year, Legacy rises above the crop of popcorn flicks that dominated 2010.