What It Is
Sam Flynn first appears in Tron: Legacy as a child, eager to spend time with his father Kevin (Jeff Bridges). The year is 1989 (that is, around the time of the original film, 1982’s Tron) and Kevin is still the dazzling young software engineer he was back then. (At least, you’re asked to believe mostly that, as he appears in deep shadows, with his back to the camera, and in a couple of awkwardly digitized shots.)
The point here is the strong bond between father and son, which is seemingly broken when Kevin disappears. Amid a flurry of salacious news stories about the mystery (a nice effect here, with multiple TV monitors in a wide, abstract space adorned, organized by headlines, newsbites, and gossipy speculations), Sam inherits his father’s shares in his software company, ENCOM. He also becomes a rebellious teen (played by Garrett Hedlund).
Determined to find out what happened to his dad, Sam heads into the grid his father invented/discovered, where programs take the form of people in bodysuits ornamented with light stripes (white for good guys, red for villains).
Here he finds his father, trapped inside the grid, devoted to meditation, and aged to 60ish, as well as Clu, his father’s helper program (still looking like the young Kevin, distractingly digitized to seem smooth-faced). Clu — devised in the first place to create a “perfect world” — is now fixed on that impossible idea. His efforts to destroy imperfections have evolved into a partly sinister, partly exciting games arena, where programs (and now, Sam) do battle, usually to the death (or, more accurately, to a shattering into digital bits).
Sam decides to extricate his dad from the grid back into the users’ world, with the support of the brautiful Quorra (Olivia Wilde), his dad’s current helper. While it’s not clear exactly how Quorra helps Kevin — apart from rescuing his son when the kid drops in — she’s very eager to help Sam in all ways. And so they set off in hopes of escape, traveling over lighted pathways that divide up deep, apparently empty space. They must get past Clu, as well other programs like Zeus (Michael Sheen, looking slightly like David Bowie during his Ziggy Stardust phase) and the massively mascara-ed, vavoomy Gem (Beau Garrett, a little like the stewardesses in 2001: A Space Odyssey). He also runs into the decidedly enigmatic Tron (once the helper program for Kevin’s partner Alan [Bruce Boxleitner, looking quite youthful, even without effects], and now an aggressive gamer with a dark helmet and no visible face).
The bulk of the film involves action by way of games: Sam and the programs speed around on motorcycles and jetty skidoos made of software, the screen of play accommodating multiple levels like 3D chess, as well as fast turns and crashes and flights. Like the first Tron, this one is less interested in characters than in concepts, mostly designed to approximate a fan-boy’s ready-to-be-dazzled worldview.
Why It’s Fun
Number one: the soundtrack by Daft Punk (who appear as DJs in Zeus’ night club). Alternately propulsive and sinuous, it shapes your experience of the games even more persuasively than the visuals do.
Number two: the 3D effects (also available on Imax). Given the obvious limits of rendering living beings (Clu being an example of such limits), the film celebrates the corny, the goofy, and the speedy thrusts and jumps obtainable right now in 3D games. Less visionary and maybe less gutsy than the first movie, it is also slicker and blander, a ride made to sell.
And number three: that ride: it is fun.
Who’s Going To Love It
Fans of the first film (that is, kids’ parents) will likely be glad to see Jeff Bridges return as Kevin, who remains a witty, charming, and strangely intriguing personality, part Dude, and part Starman. Thank goodness he maintains a sense of humor and irony that provides a welcome counterbalance to his son’s slow-seeming earnestness.
Kids who like games and action figures and simple stories built on constant forward motion will appreciate the lack of narrative frills.
What To Be Aware Of
While Sam’s entry into a game space might seem fanciful and exciting in theory, it is also sometimes grim and repetitive here. This makes it clear why he wants to get out, even though he’s very good at the physical gaming — throwing frisbee-like weapons that destroy adversary programs and would, presumably, kill Sam as well.
Besides, his dad thinks he should get home, where he might ward off Clu (who, like a standard issue villain, wants to dominate the users’ world as well the grid) and especially to keep open the public’s access to information, whether in the form of games and programs or in more intangible ways.
This theme is embodied by Quorra, who is not just a regular helper program but one who might. as Kevin puts it, “change the world.” By this he means altering possibilities for religion, culture, and science, the ways they limit generosity and love and other Zen notions. (In this, she recalls Leeloo [Milla Jovovich] of The Fifth Element, more an object of desire than a person with her own desires.) It’s not completely clear how her program will do this — more like the grand hope for Freeware than the stickier business of Wikileaks — but Sam believes it, and so his possibilities are transformed right away. He's no longer just rebellious and unhappy. He wants to save the world, just like his dad does.
The scene at Zeus’ night club features naughty behaviors — drinking and dancing, flirting and fighting — all crammed into a room that’s not quite as small as it first seems. it should be mote too that Zeus is coded ad stereotypically “gay,” as he sashays around Sam and then Clu.
The climax is explosive and loud and leaves you wanting more. Maybe just a little bit.
8 out of 10
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, James Frain, Beau Garrett, Michael Sheen
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
US Premiere: December 17, 2010
UK Premiere: December 17, 2010