It’s been two decades since programming genius and former ENCOM CEO Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) fell off the grid and disappeared into the Grid, leaving behind a son so baffled and dim he never bothered to check the wall behind dad’s Tron arcade game for the secret passage leading to the electronic rabbit hole. Perhaps Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) preferred being a wealthy orphan, having inherited dad’s company without having to assume any of dad’s responsibilities. When asked what he thinks happened to his father, Sam, now 27, shrugs amiably and replies, “He’s either dead or chillin’ in Costa Rica. Probably both!”
When Sam does finally follow Kevin into the infinite geometrical plain of the Grid, he actually seems more at home there than in Vancouver, where Tron: Legacy was filmed. Having simply traded one world without sunlight for another, Sam’s immediately stripped of earthly clothing, covered in flatteringly body-hugging electro-goo, given an “identidisc”—a sleek LP-sized object which slips snugly into your backpack and records everything you do—and sent off to play killer Frisbee in the neon coliseum. Sam proves a natural gladiator, literally shattering his opponents in quick succession and breaking away to find Kevin, who’s been hiding in some pocket where Clu (also Jeff Bridges), his evil renegade avatar who now controls the Grid, can’t find him. Kevin, now bearded and gray, wears comfy looking karate gear and sits barefoot and cross-legged, still pondering the possibility of “a digital frontier that will reshape the human condition” and “a system where all information is free and open… Beautiful.”
If we don’t count his appearances in a brief flashback and as Clu, whose face is digitally air-brushed to make Bridges look 27 years younger and really, really creepy, Sam’s reunion with Kevin about marks Bridges’ proper star entrance, 30 minutes or so into Tron: Legacy and not a moment too soon. 20 years trapped in a video game and Bridges still seems like a human being, while Hedlund, whose performance involves a great deal of face squishing, feels like a figure out of a video game from the very start. Bridges’ approach is so loose, funky and tender as to be refreshingly antithetical to the one-dimensional performance style that dominates these sorts of effects-heavy 3-D fantasies. Despite being a fugitive in the now fascist state of the Grid, Bridges’ Kevin retains a youthful enthusiasm for his grandiose project, which might as well be an organic farm on Mars. “You’re messing with my Zen thing, man!” The Dude abides… in virtual reality!
(There is one other notable actor of considerable skill and subtlety in Tron: Legacy, but unfortunately Michael Sheen, whose work I generally enjoy very much, here in creamy platinum Ziggy Stardust mullet, is working very hard at something that just doesn’t seem to fit. He plays this Mad Hatter nightclub owner. His clientele is uniformly sedate, but he dances around shouting and playing air guitar with his dandyish cane. As I write this it occurs to me that Sheen’s incongruous mania probably sounds pretty funny. If it is, I missed the gag the first time around.)
To be honest, though Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis’ script is somehow simultaneously underwritten and confusing, if not completely nonsensical—How do flesh-and-bone people get sucked into the Grid? And how do they eat that sucking pig?— there’s a lot about Tron: Legacy that feels like a welcome alternative to your average contemporary science fiction blockbuster. Rather than assault the viewer with frames saturated with extraneous detail and Redbull-addled editing, Joseph Kosinksi’s directorial debut, with production design by Darren Gilford, ushers us into a disco-lit world of smooth plateaus and distant thunder that’s austere enough to allow the action to become more graphically dynamic. The outfits, motorbikes and ships employed by the bad guys emanate a warm orange glow that reminds me of the inside of my toaster oven, and Daft Punk’s pleasingly percolating synth washes enhance the film’s overall liquid vibe as Sam, Kevin, and Quorra, Kevin’s lovely, almond-eyed Girl Friday (Olivia Wilde), attempt to cross the Sea of Simulation. It’s both a chase movie and the cinematic equivalent of a warm bath.
Tron: Legacy ends however not in the Grid but back in our gungy material world. Kevin’s big epiphany during his years away was that perfection needs to be cultivated rather than designed or dictated: “Bio-digital jazz, man!” The final shot, which of course alludes to another Tron sequel, implies that it’s the world we actually live in that contains the real adventure.