Like "Avatar," "Tron: Legacy" takes us into a world of digital imagination, a dreamscape Netscape of blacks and blues and neon-lit "programs" and disc-duels for the teeming masses of bits and bytes.
It’s a gorgeous sequel to 1982’s “TRON,” a video game movie and a cult hit that was decades ahead of its time.
But like “Avatar,” “Legacy” is a film too in love with its own good looks. And like the original “TRON,” the sequel’s a bit of a slog, a generally humorless quest inside the computer “grid” in which a son searches for his digitally disembodied father, and the father seeks salvation for humanity through the digi-verse that has taken on a life of its own.
Garrett Hedlund (“Friday Night Lights”) is Sam Flynn, son of Kevin (Jeff Bridges), the games-and-grid guru who stumbled into the Digital New World back in 1982. Dad disappeared, the film says, in 1989. So Sam has grown up a rich, motorcycle-riding rebel, smart enough to hack his way into his father’s now billion-dollar company, aimless enough to only do that as a prank.
His dad’s old partner (Bruce Boxleitner, back from the original film) says he’s been paged by the long-defunct phone in Kevin’s long-closed arcade. That sends Sam to the office where Kevin was digitized, dropping him onto the same “grid” his dad created. There, he is forced to race light cycles and do disc battles to survive the machinations of the evil “CLUE,” his dad’s alter ego, played by a digitally de-aged Jeff Bridges.
Sam’s efforts to escape this world lead him to others, and here’s where the movie goes right. Olivia Wilde of TV’s “House” is so otherworldly gorgeous and physically perfect that she seems to fit, playing an “ISO” in the film’s alternate reality. Other lady programs look like painted-up models ready to remake Robert Palmer’s music videos, should the need arise. The “real world” corporate villains are forgotten as Sam journeys on and off the grid, trying to re-connect with his father and his father’s creations. And much else is dispensed with as the film overtly rips off earlier sci-fi masterworks in search of its own soul: sets from “2001,” battles and robes and such straight out of “Star Wars.”
Then 80 minutes in, the “The Queen”/“Underworld”/“Twilight” character actor Michael Sheen shows up as Castor, also known as Zeus, a big-haired bon vivant who looks like David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust incarnation, but played as if Sheen’s ready to star in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Sheen’s hamming brings the movie to life.
“Behold,” he bellows to the programs drinking at his swank digital bar, “the son of our creator!”
When Bridges himself, an aged guru stuck in time, blurts “You’re messin’ with my zen thing, man,” we’re left to wonder how this might have gone down had the movie’s creators not taken the damned thing so seriously. That lack of humor and personality robs it of emotion.
Alas, it’s a legacy of “TRON” for its sequel to be as slow and dense, humorless and emotionally sterile as the original.
** 1/2 **
Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen, Bruce Boxleitner
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Running time: 2:07
Rating: PG; sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language