"Tron: Legacy"

Once upon a time there was a movie called “Tron.” For all intents and purposes, “Tron” was at best mediocre and at worst relatively horrible. It did have amazing graphics for the time period, however, and a generation obsessed with arcade games came to embrace “Tron” despite its relative horribleness. For reasons no one can quite understand, Disney, the studio that owned “Tron,” decided to wait 28 years before releasing a sequel to the cult hit. “Tron: Legacy” cost about $300 million to produce and when it opened, a great number of fools (such as yours truly) went to see it. The end. That is easily the strangest intro I’ve ever written for a column but it seemed fitting.

“Legacy” opens with our introduction to Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), the 26 year-old son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), the man who invented the technology to enter the digital world in the original film. Sam is a disenfranchised rich kid whose net worth is several hundred million dollars but who would rather break into his own company’s headquarters to release its new software to the general public for free. When a mysterious page comes from his father’s old arcade, Sam discovers a hidden room where he, too, is digitized and sent into the alternate universe of sorts that his father is trapped in. Sam enters a world that is ruled by Clu (young Jeff Bridges), who strives to break into our universe to rid the world of “imperfection” (aka: humans). Only Kevin and Quorra (Olivia Wilde) stand in his way, a duo that Sam joins in a fight to preserve humanity.

There is no questioning the visual brilliance of “Tron: Legacy.” Even in the 2D format I chose (as is my custom), the vehicles, costumes, and graphics jump off the screen. It is a beautiful if sterile world that “Legacy” operates in. Special effects and CGI took up the bulk of this movie’s budget and that truly shows in almost every frame. The action sequences are bold and dynamic, sometimes moving so fast as to seem a blur on the canvas. Clu is also a stunning achievement. Played by Jeff Bridges, CGI is used to create a drastically younger face. It is the most lifelike CGI I’ve ever seen and for all but the very briefest of moments here and there, I don’t think the average audience member could tell that his appearance had been digitally altered. I suspect the work on this aspect of the film will have a tremendous impact on the industry as a whole.

The other components of the film, however, lag behind the computer work. In truth, everything else takes a backseat to the FX department. Rookie director Joseph Kosinski shows his inexperience by allowing his film to rely almost exclusively on the work added in post-production instead of drawing the most out of his cast. Hedlund plays his part well-enough but my feeling is he didn’t have a whole lot to work with. Sam is a bit stale and primal, displaying only the most basic of emotions and behaviors. Bridges is almost wasted as Kevin, coming off too often like a futuristic knockoff of The Dude (“The Big Lebowski”). When you have Jeff Bridges at your disposal, you highlight Jeff Bridges, not the CGI copy of Jeff Bridges. Honestly, it’s a bit of a lazy effort from the guy who won an Academy Award last year (“Crazy Heart”) and should probably win another this year (“True Grit”). Then we come to Wilde who, quite simply, cannot act, or at least I have yet to see her act. Quorra is one of the most one-dimensional characters I have ever seen and Wilde does absolutely nothing to help that disability. Meanwhile the story is overly complex and yet at the same time horribly underdeveloped, a combination I didn’t think was possible until now. In short, “Tron: Legacy” is a Michael Bay fantasy: tremendous style, very little substance.

I went into “Legacy” with tempered expectations and to be honest, I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a fun, eye-pleasing ride that I really enjoyed. Obviously that’s the goal of the film’s backers and on some level, you have to applaud decision makers who know their target audience and go after them whole hog. Still, with a $300 million budget and a marketing campaign that has lasted the better part of two years, you’d like to think that a decent script and layered characters wouldn’t be too much to ask.

Grade: B-

Olivia Wilde is making me question “Cowboys and Aliens,”