I just read on Wikipedia (so it must be true!) that TRON—the 1982 sci-fi flick about a computer engineer (Jeff Bridges) who enters his own video game—was inspired by the Atari game Pong. But of course, Pong has about as much to do with today’s video games as a Model T has to do with today’s cars. (If you watch the trailer for the original TRON on YouTube, they treat computers like some sort of ominous futuristic threat to humanity—which, okay, proved accurate, but still).
Yes, this sequel somewhat updates the original’s wide-eyed view of the digital world, but it’s still working with an outmoded mainframe, if you know what I mean.
In TRON: Legacy, Kevin Flynn (played by both an eerie, computer-simulated young Jeff Bridges and the wily old actor himself) has been missing for 20 years. His rebel son Sam (dishy but dull Garrett Hedlund) wanders into the cob-webby arcade where Flynn used to work and gets sucked through a portal into the grid. There, he discovers a world of avatar-like “programs” who engage in old-fashioned video-game-style battles for survival.
The first game Sam plays involves ducking hurled disks—yes, a little bit like Pong. The next game he has to play involves riding these slick ATV-type vehicles that you create by running really fast and jumping into the thin air. Sam does pretty well with these until he goes up against Clu, the rogue program his father created in his own image. Luckily, he’s saved by the mysterious hottie Quorra (Olivia Wilde), who sports the same choppy black bob Natalie Portman wore in The Professional (previously sported by Beatrice Dalle in Betty Blue) so you know she must be cool.
Finally, Sam meets up with dear old dad, who’s a sort of Zenmaster now, resigned to merely observe the world he has created (and accidentally corrupted) from afar.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a totally loony and over-the-top (but strangely mesmerizing) appearance by Michael Sheen as white-haired club owner Zeus. (The talented Sheen, who also has shown up in the Twilight series, seems to have adopted his countryman Michael Caine’s motto of “If you pay me, I will come.”)
The premise may be creaky but TRON: Legacy should still be tons of fun, right? It’s actually surprisingly inert. The digital world director Joseph Kosinksi has created—lots of blindingly bright white, neon, and slick black—has all the futuristic flair of those Progressive auto insurance commercials with Flo. And the battle between Flynn and his digital alter ego has no juice. (The reappearance of TRON himself amounts to a blink-and-you-missed-it cameo, although Bruce Boxleiter—as TRON’s human corollary Alan Bradley— recreates his original role.) Even the sentimental aspects—Sam’s reunion with his long-lost dad—fall flat.
Avatar clearly (and perhaps unfairly) raised the bar for 3D films that attempt to immerse you in an alternate world. But TRON: Legacy doesn’t even deserve to share the same popcorn fumes as Avatar.
All things being equal, I’d rather be playing Pong.