On paper, one might care about the plight of Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges, reprising his role from the original), whose father crossed the digital frontier in the first film, and who has vanished permanently in between films, leaving his son to grow up fatherless. Now a disaffected young hacker who chooses to play anarchic pranks on his father’s company rather than lead it, Sam remembers his father’s bedtime stories about the grid, but has no idea they’re real until one day when he falls down the rabbit hole after his missing father.
For Sam’s journey to matter, he would have to connect in some meaningful way with something in grid-world. His father, a girl, the world itself—something. Tron: Legacy tries out all the options, but nothing clicks.
No one has any idea what to do with Kevin Flynn, whom Sam discovers has grown old inside the grid-world hiding from his renegade creation, Clu (Bridges again, playing a younger version of himself through queasily semi-convincing effects magic). Bridges gets by on panache, which makes him watchable, but it’s not enough.
Kevin lives off the grid in a hidden redoubt with Quorra, the cyber-chick. Olivia Wilde gives the most unaffected performance in the movie, and has the only moment of any emotional weight whatsoever (it comes at the very end). Still, her character is an unsolvable paradox, because the movie can neither acknowledge her as available or unavailable. She can’t be available because she’s not human or even biologically alive. But she can’t be unavailable because, well, just look at her.
Attempting to get the story moving again, Sam sneaks out on his father, making for a club where he’s been told is a program apparently called either Castor or Zuse (Michael Sheen) with connections who can help him. Then the movie falls apart completely.
Turns out Sam has been inadvertently set up, which carries no emotional weight, because we don’t have any idea where the info came from or why it was wrong. Then, in the movie’s most dramatic entrance, Sam’s father dramatically appears out of nowhere, looking as bad as Iron Man thundering to earth in Afghanistan in the first movie. This is the first time Kevin has set foot outside of his redoubt in goodness knows how long, and it looks like we’re in for some serious butt-kicking.
Instead, the bad guys proceed to steal the Most Valuable Object In Grid-world from Kevin, and the good guys barely get away. What the heck? The scene’s awfulness is further exacerbated by Sheen’s showboating performance, which some critics have praised as the best thing in the film, and which might have been, in smaller doses. A minute of total screentime would have been about my threshold.
As far as I can tell, the movie has no idea exactly what identity rings are for, why they matter, or why Kevin’s has the special properties it does. It makes a great to-do about the spontaneous emergence of “isomorphic algorithm” sentient programs, most of whom have been wiped out by Clu, but can’t explain why their emergence is supposed to have such earthshaking consequences for science, philosophy and perhaps even religion.
It’s not clear exactly what the threat is if the villain succeeds in his master plan. And capping the whole thing, when the smoke clears from the final, climactic lightshow, the most basic response is not “Wow” but “Huh? Wait. What? How?” At least, that was my reaction, and that of the hardcore Tron fans I saw the film with. Feel free to enlighten us.
Oh, and where is Tron? He was one of Bruce Boxleitner’s characters in the original. He’s still the title character, but barely puts in an appearance.
Ultimately, the last nail in the coffin may be this. Would I want to visit the world of Tron: Legacy? Would I want to ride the lightcycles, chill at Kevin’s redoubt, party at Castor’s club? Um. No, not really. Give me giant trees and floaty mountains and Technicolor pterosaurs. You can keep your glowy dirtbikes and ambiguous neon chicks. Come to think of it, I’d rather play a round of Snake.