1982’s Tron showed us what might be going on inside computers, where programs live in The Grid, and fight for survival against the evil Sarc and his Master Control Program. At the end of that film, creator Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) – who had been sucked into the computer – managed to escape and take control of ENCOM. As Tron: Legacy opens, seven years later in 1989, we see that Flynn now has a son, Sam, and has made ENCOM an enormous software giant. But then, one night, he vanished and his shares in the company transferred to Sam, who grew up without a father. Now twelve years later, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is the largest shareholder of ENCOM, but hasn’t really been involved. He’s been more interested in living on the edge, hacking into ENCOM for fun, and generally making life difficult for executive Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner). But when Bradley gets a page from Flynn’s office at the old arcade – which had been shut down for years – Sam goes in to explore. He finds a secret lab, with a computer that has been running for over two decades – and then promptly gets sucked into the digital realm when he runs the last command that had been typed into the system.
The Grid is not anything like the Internet; this is a digital realm that evolved independent of anything online; it’s all in Flynn’s mainframe. Promptly captured, Sam is sent to compete in the gladiatorial games, where his identity is revealed to the Grid’s dictatorial ruler, Clu (a younger digital Jeff Bridges). After an exciting lightcycle chase, Sam is rescued by Quorra (Olivia Wilde), who is working in league with Flynn to foment a rebellion against Clu. Finally reunited with his father, Sam learns that Flynn felt that he could make a digital frontier to reshape the human condition. Flynn created Clu to help build the perfect digital world, with the help of Tron (Boxleitner) – but a new life form, isometric algorithms (ISOs) were spontaneously created. Clu felt that ISOs were an imperfection in the perfect system – so he went bad – causing a genocide of the ISOs, defeating Tron, and forcing Flynn into exile.
The only way to get Flynn back to the real world is to get to the portal that opened when Sam was sucked in (Flynn had been trapped for 22 years), but Clu sees it as an opportunity to get the army he has been building out into the physical world, if he can steal Flynn’s identity disc. So the race is on, as Sam tries to find a way to the portal and get him and his dad out before Clu can get there.
Tron: Legacy is, at its heart, a father-son story. The emotional and rebellious nature that Sam exhibits clearly stems from growing up without a father figure, under the mistaken pretense that Flynn abandoned him – when in actuality he was trapped in The Grid. Beyond that, the simplicity of the story allows for the visuals to dominate – and oh boy, do they! The effects in Tron were groundbreaking at the time, and with visual effects having evolved in leaps and bounds since then, it was necessary to show us something in Tron: Legacy that looked like Tron, but with a slickness that 2011 audiences would demand. Director Joseph Kosinski gives the film a dark look, allowing the glowing neon lights to dominate, with lens flares, reflections, and plenty of glossy figures. It’s got a lot of eye candy, (Olivia Wilde in skin tight spandex? Sign me up!) and makes for a fun ride. Adding to the experience, aside from the stellar and punchy sound mix, is the musical score by Daft Punk. With a few solid themes, and punchy rhythms and grooves, it might be borrowing a little stylistically from Inception at times, but overall it sticks with you when the lights come up. Bridges at times sounds like he’s more like The Big Lebowski than an aged version of the computer nerd we saw in Tron, Michael Sheen’s portrayal of Zeus, the club owner who Sam goes to for help, is completely over the top and ridiculous, and the young digital Jeff Bridges has some issues with the lips which feels a bit odd and makes the effect stand out. It’s by no means a perfect film, but it’s sure as heck an entertaining one.