It has been nearly thirty years since the original TRON made waves with its then groundbreaking visual effects. Visual effects have caught up with the visionary ideas of the digital world of the original, making the sequel a visual treat. Unfortunately, the story is less compelling.
Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS) idolized his father Kevin (Jeff Bridges, THE BIG LEBOWSKI), a brilliant computer programming who dreamed of creating a perfect world inside the computer. He called this world The Grid and promised to show it to Sam one day, but then he disappeared. Sam has grown despising what ENCOM, the company his father ran. Each year he plays a prank on the company to get under their skin. Then his father's old partner Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner, TV's BABYLON 5) comes to him with news that he's received a page from his father's old office. When Sam goes to investigate, he stumbles across his father's work and inadvertently gets transported into The Grid.
In the digital world, he is thrust into gladiator-like games run by Clu, an un-aged Program version of his father. He has taken control of The Grid, ruling over it like a dictator and seeking out Kevin in order to take his "perfect" world to the real world. And he has employed the digital world protector Tron as his enforcer. Luckily, Sam is rescued from the games by Quorra (Olivia Wilde, TV's THE O.C.), Kevin's right-hand woman. Sam wants to free his father, but Kevin is not so sure that leaving the fortress he has built is safe.
Sam's motivation is simple — save my dad. But we never feel it. Their relationship is never developed. His rescue doesn't mean anything either. At best, his presence in the real world might move ENCOM to make their new OS open source… wow. Kevin's motivations are muddy. Is he fighting to save his son, The Grid, or the magical digital beings that The Grid created? There are times it seems to change within the same scene. The most interesting character turns out to be Quorra. She has a quirky innocence. When she asks Sam if he knows Jules Verne and he says he does, she replies, "What is he like?" Too bad that nice color is used for two or three lines and then abandoned for another chase sequence.
Without any strong thread to pull us through the world, the film takes on no more meaning than an amusement park ride. Like an amusement park ride, the film has its ups and downs and excitements, but it's has no more meaning than the visceral experience. After a while one keeps thinking of films that did similar story elements better. THE MATRIX had a hero with something really on the line when he went into a digital world. When Sam slides into a gun turret seat of a jet, I was expecting him to be shooting at neon TIE Fighters.
While you can find shades of Zen philosophy, man vs. creation or corporate corruption themes in the story, it is never part of the coding. The real digital bits are impressive. The cycles with their digital wakes are cool as hell. But in the end, TRON: LEGACY is much like its digital version of a young Jeff Bridges. Periodically convincing.