By Roxana Hadadi
Movies for nerds have gotten way cooler since the ‘80s, arguably their heyday. The sentiment of “Revenge of the Nerds” has been carried on in films like “Superbad,” and the fantasy dynamic of “Labyrinth” and “Legend” got a million times more detailed and wondrous with the “Lord of the Rings” and “Chronicles of Narnia” series. And with “Tron: Legacy,” the long-awaited sequel to 1982’s “Tron,” Disney puts an exclamation point on everything geeks have wanted for decades.
Entrancingly beautiful landscapes, thrilling action scenes, a phenomenal soundtrack and just plain-cool everything else: “Tron: Legacy” takes all those elements and puts them together into a fantastic two hours that’s like a playground of phenomenal special effects. All the qualities that could have possibly been improved upon from the first “Tron” are – Jeff Bridges’ acting is more nuanced; the fights are dynamic; the threats seem that much more dire. And though the film isn’t perfect – among all the technological wizardry, there’s a bit of emotion missing – it’s worth seeing, and then again, and then maybe more times than that, just because of the visual feast.
In “Tron,” viewers were introduced to Bridges’ character, Kevin Flynn, a software engineer who designed video games for the company ENCOM before getting forced out by rival Ed Dillinger, who stole his designs and passed them off as his own. But Flynn, far more talented than Dillinger, is able to break through ENCOM’s artificial intelligence program with his own creation, Tron, even though he had been digitized into being inside the program itself. Recognized as a software genius, Flynn is brought back into the fold at ENCOM – and that’s where “Tron: Legacy,” picks up, with Flynn in control of the company and his son, Sam (Owen Best), revering all his stories about being in the Grid.
But one night, after Flynn tells Sam he’s discovered a “miracle” inside the Grid, he disappears – and after years of no sign or news, the now-adult Sam (Garrett Hedlund) has settled into a life without his father. He uses his similar software skills to annually hack into ENCOM, which has become a hugely successful company practicing the exact kind of big-business methods his father argued against, and only really interacts with Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), his father’s best friend, who still works at ENCOM but despises what it has become. But while Sam pushes Alan’s fatherly instincts away, he listens when Alan tells him of a mysterious page he received from Flynn’s office at his arcade, which has been deserted since his disappearance.
Curious about who sent the page, Sam heads to the arcade – and without knowing what’s happened, gets digitized into the Grid, much like his father did all those years ago. And it’s inside the Grid where Sam gets all his answers: about where Flynn went, what he was working on and why, for all those years, Sam didn’t have a father.
It’s this important emotional element, however, that’s lacking in “Tron Legacy.” When Sam enters the Grid, things get spectacular to look at – the dazzling speed of the lightcycles, zipping around each other in a “Gladiator”-like tournament; Flynn’s apartment, a Zen-like den of leather books and beautifully complex scientific instruments; 3-D fireworks that explode into spheres and dodecahedrons; fluorescent airplanes that blaze throughout the sky – and it’s hard to stop gazing at the entrancing neon tones on the screen. And if you’re seeing the film in 3-D or on an IMAX screen (which really, you should), it’s even more tough to break the experience, which is perfectly aided by a soundtrack created by electro duo Daft Punk, who even make a cameo in the film.
But the film allows all that stunning beauty to take over, meaning everything else kind of gets pushed to the background. Bridges is fantastic as Flynn, who has grown to accept his pitiful fate stuck in the Grid, and as Clu, a bad guy duplicate of himself now running the place; to act both opposites is an impressive feat for Bridges, who makes each character’s motives believable. And while Hedlund effectively portrays his own character’s confusion over life in the Grid, his reactions to things – like help from Quorra (Olivia Wilde), Flynn’s only friend, and a visit to Castor (a hilarious Michael Sheen), a club owner program in the Grid – sometimes seem superficial and flat, lacking in complete emotional weight.
Nevertheless, just because “Tron: Legacy” lacks the heart we’ve come to expect from Disney films doesn’t mean it’s a bust; instead, it rivals this summer’s “Inception” in riveting splendor, and though the fight scenes are suspenseful, they don’t include any blood or gore that should shock younger kids. Plus, no cliffhanger ending – which is automatically one point in “Tron: Legacy’s” favor. All that other beautiful-to-look-at stuff? That helps too.