“Tron: Legacy” begins with Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), who has no real character traits that exist outside of a Hollywood pitch meeting. He skydives and motorcycles and hates authority, and occasionally says things like, “It’s on” or “This isn’t happening” or “You have to trust me!” He’s a millionaire, but by choice, he lives alone, with a dog, in a moody garage by the river.
He inherited Encom from his father, Kevin Flynn (you may remember him from “Tron,” but probably not), but he’s ceded the company to Bruce Boxleitner since he feels bad that Boxleitner hasn’t been in a respectable film in about two decades. In kind, Boxleitner has let a bunch of buzzword-savvy yuppies undermine his own authority by daring to make decisions like creating software and not giving it away. But Boxleitner need not worry, since the most important event in the film is about to happen to him: his beeper’s about to vibrate.
Perhaps because he’s holding out hope that Kevin (Jeff Bridges) isn’t dead after his mysterious disappearance of ’89 (or because he’s always been in love with Kevin — it’s just really hard to explain what a beeper is doing in this movie), Boxleitner interrupts Sam’s Pop-A-Wheelie-Against-The-Man routine to give him the news: the page came from inside Flynn’s Arcade. See, Kevin was a tech genius, but that emerged from being a gaming nut, a gateway drug that led him to conquer, and then lose himself, in his own tech world. Which partially explains paging Bruce Boxleitner.
Sam takes a break from flipping off Big Business to investigate, finding in the dusty arcade the ability to jump into the world his father created twentysomething years ago. He immediately arrives in the middle of “the grid” that creepy young CGI Kevin described to his son before his disappearance. It’s a terrifying place, where beautiful women strip his clothes off, people fight each other with glowing Frisbees, a Bowie/Chaplin/Brundlefly combo runs the Party District and, no matter where you are, Daft Punk is always jamming out. “Tron” director Steven Lisberger seemed like he was trying to warn the world about tech-based thinking, but Joseph Kosinski seems like he’s as big a videogame fan as the elder Flynn himself. Less Godard, more Galaga.
So this gaming world seems pretty neat, until Sam realizes that his dad created an Avatar™ that has developed a mind of its own. Apparently he intends to hold endless Frisbee gladiator matches and motorcycle races with “programs” designed to look and act like people. This doesn’t seem very evil until he tries to kill Sam. Though this Kevin-alike, named C.L.U., seems to have control of an entire army (of sports fans) at his disposal, he selects the method least likely to kill the protagonist of any movie: death by motorcycle race!
Sam escapes thanks to Olivia Wilde, who seems to be playing… well, what is she? She takes Sam to Kevin, who now looks like a blissed out, potheaded Obi-Wan Kenobi. He drops some science on his son for no discernible reason if only to excuse the seeming randomness of this world, before telling him that he created Olivia Wilde. Good job, Pothead Obi-Wan. She reads Jules Verne and looks good in leather, but when Sam says he dropped out of college, she can’t stop laughing. She celebrates more than a few things inappropriately, seems confused about human emotions, and asks Sam, idly, what the Sun is like, and how to explain it.
After dinner in the computer world (where did they get a roasted pig?) Sam says he wants to make a dash back to society. There’s a timetable, so he has to rush, and he wants Dad to come with him. Dad wants to bring Olivia Wilde. Can you blame him? But again… what is she? Is she machine? Is she a computer program? Is she human? Kevin seems super proud of creating her, and reveals she’s got some sort of Unobtanium™ in her or something but… what exactly has he been doing with her for twentysomething years? Dad creates Babeotron 2000 and lives alone with her, off the grid, until she grows into a full figured woman. And then Dad smiles when Sam and Olivia Wilde grow close. It’s a Freudian nightmare is what we’re trying to say.
And then Kevin drops the bombshell — he didn’t send that page. Because it’s 2010, no one knows how to send a page anymore. Especially not to Bruce Boxleitner. And thus, the plot point the year’s biggest movie hinges on — our villain has spent two decades trying to find his enemy in the computer world, only to place his hopes on the genius plan of sending Bruce Boxleitner a page. In 2010. That way, Sam would answer it, go to his dad, and bring his father out of hiding. You wonder if that guy who unleashed snakes on a commercial flight that one time thought of this.
At this point, the action kicks into high gear. Which means a couple of white people inexplicably bust out kung fu moves against an army of Daft Punks, an old mentor figure with limitless ability quite literally does an extended Obi-Wan impersonation, and the audience realizes that this is a world of pitch black darkness with only three primary neon colors, meaning you can kiss your chance to see any more interesting visuals goodbye. Waves upon waves of villains attack, but they’re dressed pretty much exactly the same. Oh, and Tron shows up. You know, the title character. Still not sure who he is, or what he does, or how he alters the final outcome. Perhaps we’ll look for some “Tron: Legacy” spoilers regarding Tron in the original “Tron.”
Speaking of spoilers, we were going to be cruel and spoil the end, but we don’t really know what happens. There’s a big laser show, and everything kind of melts into each other, and it’s a lot like looking into a lava lamp. We think the hero won, but maybe the villain did. The heroes wear blue, so we thought we were in the clear, until we realized both sides have characters that look and sound a lot like that guy from “Starman.” Maybe you’re supposed to find out in the spinoff cartoon, or a sequel, or a webisode or something. We should probably just blow up Bruce Boxleitner’s beeper, see if he knows. [D]