I have a caveat. It’s nearly impossible for me to write about Tron Legacy (directed by Joseph Kosinski) without the veil of nostalgia clouding my eyes. I was nine years old when the original Tron came out and a few years later my brother watched it on constant rotation at our house.
I have very fond memories of Tron that are directly tied to my siblings – and I happen to love how the animation looks even after two decades – so it is difficult for me to be objective in regards to it’s predecessor.
We are introduced to Sam Flynn as a young boy. His father, Flynn (played by a digitally re-constructed, be-mulleted, 1982-era Jeff Bridges…more on that later), is tucking him in for the night and telling him about Tron and the digital universe known as The Grid…he tells it kind of like a bed-time story, but it’s much creepier (see Digital Bridges, Uncanny Valley).
Sam’s room is full of Tron video game paraphernalia – action figures, posters, etc. – and when Kevin says goodnight to leave for work, it is apparent that the boy desperately wants more his father’s attention.
We quickly learn that Flynn disappeared that night and a bereft and angry Sam is left to be raised by his grandparents. We are re-introduced to him years later as a bitter, thrill-seeking 27 year old (Garrett Hedlund, who is unfortunately a vacuum of charisma). Now an adult, Sam is the major shareholder of ENCOM (his father was the CEO) and bides his time collecting dividend checks and plotting elaborate annual pranks at the shareholder meetings.
After one such stunt, he is visited by Alan Bradley, a friend of his father’s and employee of ENCOM (Bruce Boxleitner). Alan tells Sam that he received a page from his father and hands him the keys to Flynn’s Arcade, urging him to dig around for clues and investigate. Curiosity gets the better of Sam and he returns to his father’s video game arcade and discovers his dad’s secret computer lair, whereupon he is digitized via lasers into the computer by the Master Control Program (MCP).
Once transported into The Grid, he is apprehended by security Programs (a kind of digital police), outfitted in a cat suit with reflector strips, given an identity/user disk and forced to participate in gladiatorial style games with other Programs. Sam’s athletic prowess and talent for motorcycle riding is established early on in the film – which factors into his natural ability to overcome his opponents with remarkable ease – and frankly, it’s something I wish had been handled less ham-fistedly.
I think it would have been more interesting – and more fun – to watch him advance gradually. It’s hard to identify with success that comes without struggle and it only made me dislike Sam more.
Sam’s swift victory grabs the attention of Clu 2 (an advanced hacking program created by Flynn, now controlling The Grid – and also played by Digital Bridges) and after discovering Sam’s identity, seeks to use him to lure out his father – who we learn has been trapped here in The Grid since his disappearance.
Sam is put back into the games on an advanced level (and this will come as a huge shock, he is super good at laser bikes and everything) with Clu himself and is soon rescued by Quorra (Olivia Wilde, HOT), a rare kind of Program who has been living with Flynn in hiding off the grid. Quorra brings Sam to Flynn, who after logging-in some serious meditation time has turned into The Dude (which delighted me to no end, truly). After a tearful re-union, we learn how Flynn became trapped in The Grid and Sam schemes to escape with his father and Quorra.
There is a scene between Flynn and Sam at the dinner table in which they are re-connecting and catching up. Flynn’s obvious disappointment in his son’s lack of ambition is humorously played, but I felt the mis-casting of Hedlund as Sam stood out here more than in any other instance. It’s a shame, since a movie like this has a lot going for it and so much potential to be fun.
Sam’s character is an important one and a more charming, less-wooden actor would have benefited the film greatly – which is glaringly obvious when Hedlund is put in the same room with more charismatic actors such as Michael Sheen (as Castor/Zuse – in full camp as a bon vivant), Jeff Bridges (the real one) and even Digital Bridges.
Which brings me to the point in which I should address the Elephant In the Room, which is the matter of Digital Bridges. Technology has come a long way and the CG animation in Tron Legacy is absolutely gorgeous. Digital Bridges – who has quite a bit of screen time – does look pretty remarkable…but still, there is something off. The scene with young Sam – in a recognizable, familiar setting – just looks weird.
Digital Bridges seemed less out of place in the universe of The Grid – after all, it is mostly inhabited by other computer Programs like himself – except that all of the other Programs are played by real actors. I couldn’t help but wonder how much more interesting it could have looked had the other Programs been animated as well.
I wonder if my expectations of Tron Legacy were unfairly high because of my childhood experience with the first film. Regardless of it’s shortcomings, I did still enjoy it and can be certain of one thing at least: Jeff Bridges is awesome.