Rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language.
Walt Disney Pictures
**** ½ out of 5
Article first published as Movie Review: TRON: Legacy on Blogcritics.
Some film series churn out a new sequel every year (“Saw” and now soon-to-join-in “Paranormal Activity”) whether we like it or not. Even worse is how usually the quality becomes increasingly awful that if the movies weren’t taking themselves so seriously they’d become self aware and maybe even entertaining. However, when a film takes 28 years to produce a sequel you’d have to question if the return to the well was warranted. In the case of “TRON: Legacy,” the answer is most definitely a resounding yes.
Coming from a director with no prior directorial duties, Joseph Kosinski, could leave some people scratching their heads. But anyone who isn’t completely enthralled with the imagery he’s managed to come up with here would either be a fool or just annoyed by the 3-D in which case why did you pay to see it that way to begin with? With the film’s screenplay also coming from two “Lost” writers (Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz), it’s no wonder that the film is chock full of love and endearment of the 1980s, and was that a backgammon game I saw on a table? You bet. It’s also worth mentioning that there are plenty of jabs given to both the Wachowski siblings and George Lucas.
“TRON: Legacy” begins in 1989 with Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) telling a bed side story to his seven-year-old son Sam (Owen Best). His grandparents (Donnelly Rhodes and Belinda Montgomery) look on before Flynn wraps things up and tells his little “kiddo” that he must be going but not before he tells his son that no matter what happens, in the grand tradition of foreshadowing, they will always be on the same side.
In the present day, now 27-year-old Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is a daredevil who doesn’t want to be CEO of the empire his father left behind. See, Flynn never came home after that night of storytelling and Sam, along with Flynn’s ol’ chum Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner back from the original “TRON”), have never given up hope of finding out where Flynn may have disappeared to so many years ago.
After Sam makes public the recent ENCOM operating system, Alan visits Sam and tells him he received a page from Flynn from the disconnected number belonging to Flynn’s arcade. Wouldn’t it be something if Sam were to drop by and see dear old dad hard at work just waiting to say, “Hey, kiddo, lost track of time.” And before you can say “Game On” Sam is transplanted from the real world into the visually astounding virtual reality of the TRON grid itself and even assigned his very own disc. From Light Cycle races to disc duels, Sam is in a bout to survive with nary an explanation of how anything works.
Once it is discovered that Sam is the son of Flynn he is whisked away and introduced to Clu (played none other than by a computer-enhanced, 21-year-old younger version of Bridges himself). Clu has been seeking out Flynn as he needs Flynn’s disc to escape into the real world but Flynn has been seeking refuge and guarding Qorra (Oliva Wilde) the last remaining Iso living within The Grid who is the miracle the real world has been in need of for years. Now it’s a race against time before the portal between the grid and our world closes again and Sam is trying to help his father and Qorra escape before Clu himself gets set loose into the real world.
Between the aged Jeff Bridges and the computer enhanced younger version, it’s like getting a two-for-one deal and him being able to so distinguish the two versions is just further proof of how deserving he really was of that coveted gold statue he won for “Crazy Heart.” Between these two characters (one of which speaks in abiding Dude speak) and his turn in the Coen’s adaptation of Charles Portis’ “True Grit,” it really is the time for Bridges to truly shine.
The biggest surprise may be Garrett Hedlund is the leading man I hoped he’d be. With plenty of charisma and range suited for Sam I found him to be much more likeable than I originally did after the film’s teasers and trailers went live. And even more so goes for Olivia Wilde. Bringing the naïve innocence required to a character born within the grid you totally buy it when after asking Sam if he knows Jules Verne she hilariously replies, “Really? What’s he like?” Michael Sheen even shows up as a character named Castor/Zuse who may be more than he appears and nearly steals the whole show.
The score by Daft Punk (who also plays a couple of “Masked DJ’s”) never gets old and keeps things moving along as well as the pacing. Easily my second favorite score of the year behind Hans Zimmer’s “Inception.” But the real star of the show is of course the visuals. Whether you might think there may be a bit too much hype surrounding the film you’d be wrong. “TRON: Legacy” is without question a mesmerizing display of visuals gone wild and the only way to see it is in IMAX 3-D. It truly is a sight to behold.
There are even cues taken and one upped from the likes of “The Dark Knight” to “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” to “Avatar” on how to use the format correctly. The screen is continually shifting not only between aspect ratios but there are several sequences shot in traditional 2-D leaving pretty much only the sequences taking place within the Grid in 3-D.
The Real 3-D format should be put to pasture as everything seen the IMAX way is brought to life with stunning clarity, lacking the dull shading brought on by the lesser of the two evils, so to speak. In the end, while “Avatar” may have looked great but was exhausting in length, here’s the 3-D event that’s exhausting by way of sheer splendor which is by far a much more rewarding experience making this one of the must see movie events of the holiday season.
Photo courtesy Walt Disney Pictures