Tron Legacy is a more entertaining experience than it has any right to be, combining nostalgia, special effects, music and 21st-century aesthetics to form a picture that evokes a warm emotional response despite a very cool aural and visual landscape.
Tron (1982) engaged my sense of wonder when I first saw it as an impressionable 13 year old. Who wouldn't want to explore the hidden world inside computers, alive with sentient programs and a deadly "game grid" where our harmless arcade pastimes become all-too-real gladiatorial contests for the hapless software slaves? It was a brilliant concept that evoked the spirit of the times; for the generation that grew up surrounded by rapidly evolving computers, Tron reflected our growing fascination with our new cyber-reality.
Even then I recognized that the film, while innovative from a technical standpoint, was no classic. Still, it was a serviceable adventure story, with likable characters, unique visuals and Wendy Carlos' wonderful score. Despite its flaws, the film remains a sentimental favourite for those of us who were in our teens when the movie premiered.
Tron Legacy improves on the original with a cliched but still effective tale of abandonment and rapprochement, a promising young friendship, and the possibilities of technological evolution. While I was expecting a dumb, loud action movie in the vein of Michael Bay, instead I experienced a film that forgoes the "idiot plot" so common among blockbusters of this type. Protagonist and antagonist alike have clear, well-defined goals and pursue them logically; both sides make mistakes and adapt as real people might (even though most of the characters in this film aren't "people" as we currently define them).
Returning stars Bruce Boxleitner and Jeff Bridges slip back into their old roles as if donning comfortable old suits, although Bridges sounds an awful lot like Jeff Lebowski this time around. "You're messing with my zen, man!" Garrett Hedlund's Sam Flynn, son of Bridges' Kevin Flynn, is a refreshing surprise; though weighed down by the long absence of his father, Hedlund's performance balances angst with intelligence, cockiness with warmth. Olivia Wilde's Quorra, though, is the real delight. As a nascent artificial intelligence, Wilde infuses her character with just the right blend of innocence, courage, curiosity and loyalty.
Daft Punk's score suits the film at least as well as Wendy Carlos' did the original. It is energetic, even frenetic, but gives each scene additional emotional heft, just as a well-constructed score should. If this score and Hans Zimmer's brilliant music for Inception aren't nominated for Oscars this year, I'll eat my lightcycle. The art directors deserve recognition as well; like Tron before it, no other film shares Tron Legacy's unique visual style, a neon-lit world of flowing curves, less angular than its predecessor but true to the first film's basic aesthetic.
The film's action sequences are colourful, well-paced and unlike many of today's hyperkinetic pictures, edited with enough restraint that viewers can actually follow what's going on.
One final note: Tron Legacy begins at night, and most of the film takes place during the eternal nightscape of Kevin Flynn's computer world. The film's denouement occurs at sunrise with a touching emotional coda earned by the characters. It's a subtle, effective moment that caps off the film wonderfully.
Grade: a solid B.