Until this past Oscar ceremony, Jeff Bridges was always one of the guys in the category of “best actor never to win an Oscar” category that pops up right around the time nominations are announced. With a handful of nominations, starting with The Last Picture Show at age 22, Bridges was 60 when he won in Crazy Heart and never seemed to need it to vindicate his career as a leading man. Some actors desperately need and want that vindication and Bridges has always taken roles that seem to be interesting for him as opposed to being more prestigious. Bridges has always seemed content to take roles like The Dude in The Big Lebowski and Flynn in Tron, taking more character-centric roles as a large part of his cinematic resume. Which makes a sequel to the latter that much more interesting; Tron was not his most famous role nor his most decorated. It was, however, one that has some story left untold with Tron: Legacy.
Flynn (Bridges) disappeared one night after tucking his young son Sam (Owen Best as a child) and promising something miraculous that would change life as we know it. When a page from his father’s old arcade stirs Encom CEO Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) from a number long since disconnected, Sam (Garrett Hedlund as an adult) heads back to Flynn’s Arcade, searching for answers. What he finds is that he’s trapped into the same world as his father was 30 years ago: inside the computer mainframe. But there’s one main difference now: his father’s sentient guardian CLU (Bridges) is now a dictator poised to take everything over. There is hope as Sam and his father, assisted by a few renegade computer programs, have to thwart his plans and find a way to escape their digital prison.
Given a significantly higher budget than the original, estimated at $200 million, this is the sort of film that raises the bar for how a film can look and feel. Everything about this film, from a visual standpoint, completely outclasses anything the original did and nearly outclasses nearly every other film that’s been released in the last decade. This has been carefully crafted, going so far as to recreate Flynn’s arcade from the original, and no expense has been shared. With a stark contrast of black to go with large swathes of bright white and orange, this is what one imagines that a digital realm could look like if it existed in this fashion. It also has an amazing score from Daft Punk, who cameo in the film in an amusing moment as DJ’s, combining a similar synth score from the original with some traditional orchestral scoring to give the film a timeless feel that the first has lost over the years due to advancing technology. Joseph Kosinski has clearly spent a significant amount of time updating the look from the original in order for it to hold up better.
The problems with this film, much like the original Tron, lie in its reliance on style over substance. This is a film that sort of meanders its way from a handful of major action sequences to smaller, more introspective pieces designed for character development. Joseph Kosinski, making his debut behind the camera, has a handle for giving the film an epic atmosphere and every moment into the sort of event film this was developed to be. He has a way of handling the scope of the film but he doesn’t have a sense of story-telling to go with it. Kosinski knows how to showcase his world, using some brilliant cinematography and some longer times between cuts and edits with his action sequences, but doesn’t quite have the ability to tell the story brewing on paper yet.
What he does have is a cast designed to help camouflage some of these flaws. And it rests mainly with Jeff Bridges, pulling double duty as both the main villain and as the mentor of the film’s hero, who steps into roles as both CLU and Flynn with an ease that belies the years between Tron and Tron: Legacy. It shows to his versatility that he’s played Rooster Cogburn, a washed up country singer looking for redemption and one of his signature roles in the span of 12 months. The film finds its focus around him and, given a cast that isn’t renowned for its acting ability, manages to raise everyone’s game. Taking Flynn in a new direction, from the wild-eyed dreamer of yesteryear to a New Age digital guru of today, he manages to flesh out the character a bit more than he did in the first film. This isn’t his best performance of the last calendar year but it’s a strong one for the genre; the film suffers whenever either of his characters isn’t involved.
Given that the original was a bit of a flop, only finding its audience via word of mouth over the years, it’s shocking that Tron: Legacy would find a way into production much less given a $200 million budget and tentpole status. It doesn’t disappoint as a spectacle, a brilliant audio/visual spectacle that might be the best use of 3D since Avatar, but is a bit lacking story wise.
Director: Joseph Kosinski Notable Cast: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen, Bruce Boxleitner Writer(s): Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis