When Tron opened in 1982, it seemed to offer irrefutable proof that the next cinematic revolution would be digitized and possibly in DayGlo. The movie starred Jeff Bridges as a video game designer sucked into an electronic world (a nice metaphor for an industry that often puts technological trippery above art) that was eye-popping and lid-dropping, with jolts of beauty blazing amid a morass of sluggish storytelling. The main attractions — bleeding-edge computer-generated imagery and an alternative reality aglow with pulsing phosphorescent colors usually found under the sea or black lights — pointed toward a brave new world. But the public largely didn’t buy into that world, and the film sputtered at the box office.
Three decades later Disney has gone back to the electronic drawing board and returned with Tron: Legacy, a sequel with far less color and cinematic imagination, and many more bells and whistles, including a freakishly special-effected Bridges going mano a mano in cyberspace with the grizzled real deal. Twice as much Jeff Bridges does not necessarily mean twice as much entertainment — bummer. But it does offer the sight of the actor returning to the same kind of paycheck-padding gig that landed him in the first Tron, if without a young man’s embarrassment. He’s Jeff Bridges, man, and having been summoned to reprise his role as Kevin Flynn, computer genius, he wears a beatific Zen gaze and the look of a man having a pretty good time.
The first Tron ended after Kevin, having vanquished a computer program that looked like a neon Easter Island statue and talked like a Senor Wences hand-puppet, reassumed control of Encom, the high-tech company he helped build. The new movie takes off in 1989 with Kevin (Bridges, kind of) seen tucking his young son, Sam (Owen Best), into bed, the child’s room adorned with the kind of Tron merchandise that is the sequel’s primary reason for being. In keeping with Disney’s tradition of violently separating parents and children, Kevin soon disappears, leaving Sam an orphan (Mom was already gone) and the biggest shareholder of Encom. Just as with the cub in The Lion King, it won’t be long before he, you know, roars.
Jeff Bridges (Kevin Flynn), Garrett Hedlund (Sam Flynn), Olivia Wilde (Quorra), Bruce Boxleitner (Alan Bradley), James Frain (Jarvis), Beau Garrett (Gem), Michael Sheen (Castor) and Owen Best (Young Sam)
Directed by the newcomer Joseph Kosinski, the sequel largely centers on the adult Sam (Garrett Hedlund) as he grudgingly and then enthusiastically follows in his father’s parallel-universe footsteps. To that lifestyle end, Sam generally avoids the office and lives in a waterfront man cave with a dog and a motorcycle parked inside, popping by Encom only to play an occasional prank. Once again, Encom has fallen into disreputable hands. (Strange how that happens with corporations.) But after Kevin’s friend Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) receives a mysterious message and reaches out, Sam stirs. Like most reluctant heroes, he finally rises to the occasion, here by tumbling down the electronic rabbit hole and landing in the same (but different) computer world where Kevin disappeared.
The sequel’s big draw, of course, is that renovated realm, now called the Grid and kitted out in 3D. What a disappointment! Although the new Tronville has its attractions, the vibrating kaleidoscopic colors that gave the first movie its visual punch have been replaced by a monotonous palette of glassy black and blue and sunbursts of orange and yellow. As if to emphasize the network connectivity of it all, the buildings, vehicles and costumes are outlined, usually in whitish-blue, an electronic piping that also emphasizes the geometry of the forms. In the action scenes these light ribbons turn into lovely streaks, but at other times, all the dark and the Daft Punk throbbing bring to mind a rave filled with revelers waving glow sticks.