Let me say this up front: Olivia Wilde is not hard on the eyes. Olivia Wilde in skin tight clothing that features randomly glowing strips of light is especially not hard on the eyes. But even in IMAX 3D she wasn’t the coolest thing about Tron: Legacy.
The coolest thing about Tron: Legacy wasn’t the light cycle races, nor was it the batons that allowed Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) and Quorra (Olivia Wilde) to transform into light cycles or equally impressive individual flying machines in a single pull. No, the coolest thing about Tron: Legacy is the hooded coat Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) wears when he leaves his remote hideaway and returns to “the grid.” Black as night on the outside and glowing from the inside, it’s the perfect metaphor for the movie’s themes and also the perfect indicator of one of the things wrong with Tron: Legacy.
Meant to catch the audience up on events since the ending of the first Tron film, Legacy opens in 1989 with expository back story in which Kevin Flynn tells his son Sam of the world he’s created inside the grid and the entities he’s programmed and is working with to help him create this world. Kevin’s disappearance and the subsequent take over of his company Encom by its board of directors.
Crash cut to 2010 as Sam breaks into Encom, hacks into the company’s server farm, releases the new version of its operating system onto the Internet just before the international press conference launching the same piece of software, and base jumps off the Encom tower. It’s clear that Encom as run by it’s board, a key member of which is Edward Dillinger (Cillian Murphy in an uncredited role), the son of Ed Dillinger (David Warner) the meglomanic programmer who stole Kevin Flynn’s video game ideas, is a stand-in for Microsoft in the film’s dichotomy between the proprietary view of software and the view that information should be free.
A page received by Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), the creator of the original Tron security program, from Flynn’s arcade leads Sam to his father’s secret office and a sequence of technological events transfer Sam to the digital world of the grid, and it’s in the grid that the film’s themes start to come to light.
In his search for his father Sam finds that the utopia his father was trying to create in the digital world is far from ideal. Clu (played by a digitally de-aged Jeff Bridges) has taken over the world his user programmed and turned it into his own little martial fiefdom with the help of his enforcer Rinzler. Kevin Flynn, meanwhile, has taken on a protege in the form of Quorra and has withdrawn to the badlands beyond the grid in an effort to frustrate Clu and keep him locked inside the digital world. In his withdrawal from the world he’s created, Flynn has embraced several concepts key to Eastern religions chief among them that sometimes the best course of action is to do nothing, a concept that escapes Sam.
This clash of concepts: action vs. inaction, what constitutes perfection and whether or not we should be striving for it, what it means to be strong, the value of life, and the real nature of identity are the major themes the writers of Tron: Legacy tried to wrap in a tech/action film wrapper. Unfortunately, they get the balance just wrong enough for the themes to seem heavy handed in the context in which they are presented. And that’s really too bad because they’re themes that American culture could benefit from exploring.
Too, the writers and casting directors combined to semi-cheat the timeline of the first Tron film in which Kevin Flynn was a carefree bachelor in 1982 and almost immediately a widower and father of a newborn son by casting an child actor, Owen Best, who at 13 is way too old to play a 7 year-old Sam Flynn.
Tron: Legacy is worth seeing if you’re a geek interested in either digital technology or in how fabulous the Tron universe looks updated using today’s technology. It should be noted that I saw this movie on in an IMAX theater and 3D was the only option for a screen that size. 3D technology is moderately well used here but not absolutely necessary to enjoy the visual improvements.