Like “Avatar,” “TRON: Legacy” takes us into a world of digital imagination, a dreamscape Netscape of blacks and blues and neon-lit “programs” and disc-duels for the teeming masses of bits and bytes.
It’s a gorgeous sequel to 1982’s “TRON,” a video game movie and a cult hit that was decades ahead of its time.
But like “Avatar,” “Legacy” is a film too in love with its own good looks. And like the original “TRON,” the sequel’s a bit of a slog, a generally humorless quest inside the computer “grid” in which a son searches for his digitally disembodied father and the father seeks salvation for humanity through the digi-verse he created, but which has taken on a life of its own.
Garrett Hedlund (“Friday Night Lights”) is Sam Flynn, son of Kevin (Jeff Bridges), the games-and-grid guru who stumbled into the Digital New World back in 1982. Dad disappeared, the film says, in 1989. So Sam has grown up a rich, motorcycle-riding rebel, smart enough to hack his way into his father’s now rapacious billion-dollar company, aimless enough to only do that as a prank.
But dad’s old partner (Bruce Boxleitner, back from the original film) says that he’s been paged by the long-defunct phone from Kevin’s long-closed arcade. That sends Sam to the office where Kevin was digitized, plunging Sam onto the same “grid” his dad created, forced to race light cycles to survive the machinations of the evil “CLU,” dad’s alter ego, played by a digitally de-aged Jeff Bridges, who looks like he should be the new conductor on “The Polar Express.”
Sam’s efforts to escape this world lead him to others, and here’s where the movie goes right. Olivia Wilde of TV’s “House” is so otherworldly gorgeous and physically perfect that she seems to fit, playing an “ISO” in the film’s alternate reality. Other lady programs look like painted-up models ready to remake Robert Palmer’s music videos, should the need arise.
“Real world” corporate villains are forgotten as Sam journeys on and off the grid, trying to re-connect with his father and his father’s creations. And much else is dispensed with as first-time director Joseph Kosinski rips off earlier sci-fi masterworks in search of his movie’s soul — sets from “2001,” battles and robes and such straight out of “Star Wars” — and tries to find ways to make the 3D pay off.
Then 80 minutes in, that “Underworld/Twilight” but also “Frost/Nixon/”The Queen” character ham Michael Sheen shows up as a big-haired bon vivant who looks like David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust incarnation, but played as if Sheen’s ready to star in a revival of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Sheen’s hamming brings the movie to life.
“Behold,” he bellows to the programs drinking at his swank digital bar, “the son of our creator!”
When Bridges as Kevin Flynn, now an aged guru stuck in time, blurts “You’re messin’ with my zen thing, man,” we’re left to wonder how this might have gone down had not the movie’s creators taken it so seriously. That lack of humor and personality robs it of emotion.
Alas, it’s a legacy of “TRON” that its sequel has to be as slow and dense, as humorless and emotionally sterile as its original.
Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen, Bruce Boxleitner
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Running time: 2 hours 7 minutes
Rating: PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language