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TRON Legacy (Disney Digital 3D)
In the first film, Flynn entered the computer and battled the evil, egotistical Master Control Program for evidence that an exec had stolen several of his video game creations (and, somewhat inadvertently, for the freedom of all programs inside the system). Shortly thereafter, now the head of ENCOM, Kevin promises his young son Sam that they'll visit "The Grid" together, right before he vanishes without a trace for 20 years. Present-day Sam (Garrett Hedlund) has his father's company at his disposal, but instead of helping or seriously hurting the computer giant, he drops in for a yearly prank intended to remind the board of his father's wishes, while at the same time spitting in the face of the world that seems to have taken the old man away. Following 2010's stunt, Kevin's old friend and TRON programmer Alan (Boxleitner) drops by to let Sam know that a mysterious page came from his father's dilapidated arcade, sending him to investigate. There, Sam discovers an unexpected ticket onto "The Grid", and a surprise reunion with his disappeared dad (still embodied by Jeff Bridges).
In 2008, Disney premiered a two-minute trailer at Comic Con without warning, surprising an audience unaware a TRON sequel was officially in production. The stunt was magic, but sadly, it seems the studio's headway ended there. The screenplay for Legacy, by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz ("LOST"), is sorely lacking in the kind of dizzying, stand-up-and-cheer thrills that trailer provided, instead choosing to leisurely rebuild the TRONiverse for a new, 21st-century audience. The opening and closing thirds of Legacy are, at the very least, acceptable, providing enough material for the audience to chew on, but the middle is an action-free grind that threatens to bring the film to a dead halt. It doesn't help that Bridges, seemingly given free reign to re-interpret Kevin Flynn however he wanted, loses some of the intended emphasis on plot points in a cloud of Zen-isms. It's not hard to connect A to C as the film progresses, but a faster, snappier journey would've been preferable.
Still, Legacy gets by on a similar sense of unexpected invention as its predecessor. At the center of the film is CLU, a program created by Kevin in Lisberger's picture. Since programs are created in their programmer's image, and programs don't age, director Joseph Kosinski and the tech wizards behind-the-scenes have devised a computer-generated system to digitally de-age Bridges so he can play opposite himself. Most of the "present day" material is significantly eerie, if not particularly close to perfection, but several flashback sequences (usually featuring both a de-aged Bridges and the CLU character outfitted in a leather jacket) look terrible, damaging the illusion. One can only imagine how cool the effect would be if it worked perfectly, but on the whole, it's just barely more compelling as a groundbreaking attempt at what technology might do in the future than a massive failing of the film, thanks in no small part to Bridges. As Kevin, he shares some solid scenes with Hedlund, and has an appealingly spaced-out attitude, but the actor definitely seems to relish playing such a bizarre villain, giving CLU a menacing spark that pulls the whole role across the rough patches.
As for Kosinski, his dazzling, commercial-slick visuals are being touted as worth a look even by most of Legacy's most violent detractors. He does admirable things with the 3D (which is subtle, but used to good effect) and handles the action well enough (an aerial battle, as Star Wars-influenced as it is, is a nice kick in the pants), but as a TRON fan, it's less the look than the feel of the universe that drew me in. As one of those "hard-to-believe" movies, there's something so specific about seeing the unexpectedly unbelievable world of TRON that Lisberger envisioned, and Legacy captures the same tone. Whether that has anything to do with Kosinski is debatable, but it's there. It sounds like thin praise, but like its predecessor, Legacy is a flawed attempt to make something unique, which, in spite of some clunky craftsmanship, succeeds in a way that seizes the imagination. I'll be the first to admit that the journey appeased me more as a fan of the franchise than a film critic, but if the world of TRON is, as Flynn puts it, "a place I thought I'd never see", it's hard not to relish such a lavish, stylish invitation to go back.
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