The idea to make a sequel to the 1982 movie Tron—which was a hit neither with most critics nor with the public and which has amassed, at best, a campy cult following among a niche of gamers and sci-fi fans—is an arrogant overestimation of the original's value. The grandiose hype for Tron: Legacy (Disney Pictures) reminds me of those Manhattan "vintage" stores that try to trick you into paying $120 for a stained raincoat because, hey, it's old! Well, no, I don't want an expensive old raincoat that was unremarkable the first time around, nor do I want an expensive ($170 million) remodel of a 28-year-old matinee flick that was forgotten for a reason.
Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) is the now-grown son of computer visionary Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who disappeared years before in the midst of working on a mysterious breakthrough in digital technology. While poking around his father's abandoned video-game arcade—a fun set that should have been put to more extensive use—Sam finds himself transported through some kind of cosmic wormhole into an all-digital alternate universe where, it turns out, Kevin Flynn has been trapped all these years. This universe is a dark, featureless place peopled by artificially-created beings in black suits with neon piping, who spend their days watching gladiatorial motorcycle fights and deadly games of Glo-Frisbee. Their dictatorial ruler, Clu, is played by some amalgam of present-day Jeff Bridges and his CGI-youthened face and body. Unlike many critics who found this technology visually creepy, I was actually pretty impressed by the film's ability to conjure a young Jeff Bridges—even when Clu was interacting with flesh-and-blood characters, his face looked surprisingly realistic and expressive. I just wish he had something notable to express.
So father and son are reunited in Kevin's alternate-universe apartment, which looks like the white room from the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, redecorated by Charles and Ray Eames. (Another nifty set, by the way; when Tron: Legacy isn't submerging us in boring green-striped blackness, it gets high marks for production design.) Young Sam also meets the latex-catsuit-clad Quorra (Olivia Wilde), the last survivor of a super-race of digital beings who were killed off by the evil Clu. Sensing that the arrival of this outsider threatens his empire with extinction, Clu institutes a repressive crackdown. Quorra, Sam, and Kevin join forces to make it back to the wormhole between the two worlds before Clu manages to get through it himself and wreak havoc in the "real," neon-piping-free world. When they reach the portal, Kevin and his self-created avatar face off in a confrontation that's disappointingly similar to any action-movie climax. Did we endure all that blather about the "digital frontier" to watch two guys slug it out on a ledge?
So, does everything about Tron: Legacy completely lack? A lot of people are praising this movie's Daft Punk soundtrack, and it might sound cool on its own, through headphones, but I experienced it mostly as very, very loud and unrelenting ambient noise. Bridges gets a couple of laughs riffing on his Big Lebowski persona of enlightened stonerhood ("You're messing with my Zen thing, man," he warns his excitable son). And Michael Sheen minces through an enjoyably campy scene or two as a fey villain who seems inspired by David Bowie's Thin White Duke persona. But the rest of the performances range from unremarkable (Wilde) to laughably bad. (Especially Hedlund, who resembles Hayden Christensen but lacks even one convincing facial expression—Christensen at least has the scowl.) Tron: Legacy is the kind of sensory-onslaught blockbuster that tends to put me to sleep, the way babies will nap to block out overwhelming stimuli. I confess I may have snoozed through one or two climactic battles only to be startled awake by an incoming neon Frisbee.
Correction, Dec. 17, 2010: A headline for this review on Slate's home page implied that Tron: Legacy was a "remake" of 1982's Tron.