Tron: Legacy

Reverential reboot is visually light-years ahead of the original and yet strangely old-fashioned.

Kevin Flynn/Clu - Jeff Bridges Sam Flynn - Garrett Hedlund Quorra - Olivia Wilde Alan Bradley/Tron - Bruce Boxleitner Jarvis - James Frain Castor/Zuse - Michael Sheen

Visually light-years ahead of the 1982 original and yet strangely old-fashioned in the story department, “Tron: Legacy” plays like the world’s most impressive screensaver — a flashy, fetishistic showcase of what bikes and bodysuits might look like in a future designed by renegade Apple employees. While 21st-century effects and a cutting-edge dance score make this a stunning virtual ride, the underlying concept feels as far-fetched as ever. Still, the Disney tentpole’s 3D-enhanced spectacle offers enough to draw legions to first-time director Joseph Kosinski’s reverential reboot, which should set high scores worldwide (compared to an OK $33 million for the earlier version).

That old-vs.-new paradox traces back to the original, which framed a wooden gladiator-style conflict against the backdrop of borderline-psychedelic, never-before-seen CGI. And though the world is a friendlier place to gamers today than it was when Disney first beta-tested this franchise, the new film’s four writers play it safe by conceiving their protag as the ultimate anti-nerd, a young Bruce Wayne type embodied by the generically handsome Garrett Hedlund (“Troy”).

The son of ultra-successful software engineer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who disappeared into his own creation nearly 20 years earlier, Sam shares none of his father’s high-tech interests. Instead, under the sometime supervision of Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner, downgraded from the title character in Version 1.0 to cameo status here), the trust-fund orphan gets his kicks racing cops on his Ducati and pulling stunts that undermine the profit-hungry motives of dad’s old company, where suits (Jeffrey Nordling and an uncredited Cillian Murphy) now run the show.

Drawn back to Flynn’s arcade, Sam discovers a secret lab, where a laser zaps him onto “the grid” — a fully CG arena where programs take human form and genuine humans hold hallowed status. Using 3D the way “The Wizard of Oz” did color, the film hits its pulse-racing heights early as Sam tries to intuit the rules of this virtual world while being stripped down, suited up and thrust into a series of dazzling life-and-death games involving neon-lit discs and DayGlo Light Cycles, while leaving the story nowhere to go but home, Dorothy.

Scribes Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz (from a story written with Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal) try to supply a much-needed dramatic dimension by reuniting Sam with his long-lost father, which should have given the programmatic plot more of an emotional resonance. After all, what 21st-century partner or parent can’t relate to the idea of the men in their life preferring to live in the parallel world offered by their videogames? That’s effectively the explanation “Tron: Legacy” offers for Kevin Flynn’s long-ago disappearance: He became so obsessed with his cyber Second Life that he would visit it every night, until his most perfect program, Clu, got the upper hand and trapped him there. But things stall after father and son come face-to-face, reverting to yet another tired world-domination plot, spearheaded by power-hungry Clu.

A laid-back Bridges does double-duty here, playing both Kevin (who looks like a space-age Rasputin in his long white robes) and Clu, who returns the actor to his younger form via unconvincingly rendered facial performance-capture. Though Kevin’s waxy-cheeked clone makes a certain sense in the all-digital Tron-iverse — despite livelier characters played by James Frain, Olivia Wilde and Michael Sheen (who seems to be channeling David Bowie) — the same technology registers as embarrassing when used to reverse-age Bridges in a real-world opening flashback.

Commercials helmer Kosinski hails from a background in architecture and visual effects, and what the design-oriented director lacks in narrative instinct, he makes up for in large-scale vision. If “Tron: Legacy’s” primary raison d’etre was to relaunch Lisberger’s world in such a way that it could support not only movies but also games, merch and themepark attractions, then Kosinski more than satisfies the job requirement. Building on blueprints from that first film (including such classic vehicles as the Recognizers and the Solar Sailer), Kosinski creates a world we’d love to explore for ourselves, using the 3D to enhance the immersive experience: Light Cycles literally materialize out of thin air, while the action spills not only “off the grid” but off the screen as well.

Every bit as important as the pic’s impressive visuals is its Daft Punk score, which hails from an entirely different dimension from conventional film compositions, establishing the tone for the whole enterprise. You don’t just hear the music, but feel it reverberating in your bones — an energy on the same sonic wavelength as the film’s vehicles and costumes, combining the flickering hum of fluorescent tubes and the insistent beat of a futuristic engine.

Those bodysuits, by the way, are now sexy, jet-black foam-latex numbers with built-in lights of various colors, rather than the unflattering white spandex of the original (which vfx guys hand-illuminated via backlit animation) — not that folks will be comparing things too closely. Although the 1982 film has its own cult-like following, mostly among geeks and stoners, Disney has strategically allowed the DVD to go out of print. That means younger auds will discover this slick film first, buying into the sequel’s radically upgraded look before having a chance to revisit its clunky prototype.

Popular on Variety

Tron: Legacy

Production: A Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release of a Walt Disney Pictures presentation of a Sean Bailey production. Produced by Bailey, Jeffrey Silver, Steven Lisberger. Executive producer, Donald Kushner. Co-producers, Justin Springer, Steve Gaub. Directed by Joseph Kosinski. Screenplay, Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz; story, Kitsis, Horowitz, Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal, based on characters created by Steven Lisberger, Bonnie MacBird.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color, Deluxe domestic prints, Technicolor international prints, widescreen, 3D), Claudio Miranda; editor, James Haygood; music, Daft Punk; music supervisor, Jason Bentley; production designer, Dustin Gilford; supervising art directors, Kevin Isioka, Mark W. Mansbridge; art directors, Sean Haworth, Grant Van Der Slagt, William Ladd Skinner; set decorator, Lin MacDonald; costume designer, Michael Wilkinson; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS), Michael McGee; supervising sound editors, Gwendolyn Yates Whittle, Addison Teague; re-recording mixers, Christopher Boyes, Gary A. Rizzo; sound designers, Boyes, Steve Boeddeker; visual effects supervisor, Eric Barba; visual effects, Digital Domain, Mr. X, Prime Focus, Prana Studios, Ollin, Whiskytree, Eyeqube, Gentle Giant; special effects supervisor, Alex Burdett; stunt coordinators, David Leitch, Scott Ateah; associate producers, Bruce Franklin, Justis Greene; assistant directors, Franklin, Pete Whyte; casting, Sarah Halley Finn. Reviewed at El Capitan Theater, Hollywood, Nov. 19, 2010. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 125 MIN.

With: Kevin Flynn/Clu - Jeff Bridges Sam Flynn - Garrett Hedlund Quorra - Olivia Wilde Alan Bradley/Tron - Bruce Boxleitner Jarvis - James Frain Castor/Zuse - Michael SheenWith : Beau Garrett, Anis Cheurfa, Jeffrey Nordling, Cillian Murphy.

More Film

  • They Shall Not Grow Old restoration

    Peter Jackson Documentary 'They Shall Not Grow Old' Nabs Limited China Release

    The Peter Jackson produced and directed World War I documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” will hit Chinese theaters on November 11. Though it will roll out nationwide, it will do so via the China’s National Arthouse Alliance, which has limited screens. The 2018 documentary puts together interviews with WWI veterans and more than 100-year-old [...]

  • Zombieland Double Tap

    'Zombieland: Double Tap' Hopes to Recapture Raunchy Zombie Magic, 10 Years Later

    Audiences may have a few questions about the sequel to 2009’s hit “Zombieland,” which opens Friday. Why did it take 10 years to make a second one, after the first grossed $102.4 million worldwide on a $23 million budget, making it the third-biggest zombie movie of all time (second-biggest if you don’t count “Hotel Transylvania,” [...]

  • AMC TheatresShop signs, Los Angeles, America

    AMC Theatres Accused of Firing VP Who Complained of Gender Pay Gap

    A former vice president at AMC Theatres filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday, accusing the company of firing her after she complained that she was paid far less than her male peers. Tonya Mangels, who was vice president of product marketing, said that in March 2018 her supervisor inadvertently sent her a spreadsheet that included [...]

  • Sir Elton John poses for photographers

    Elton John Calls 'Lion King' Remake a 'Huge Disappointment'

    Elton John isn’t feeling the love for Disney’s latest live-action remake. In an interview with GQ U.K., the legendary musician criticized Disney’s remake of “The Lion King,” citing the film’s music as a “huge disappointment.” “The new version of The Lion King was a huge disappointment to me, because I believe they messed the music [...]

  • Fiddlin'

    Film Review: 'Fiddlin''

    Not many forms of music have “old-” actually built into their name as a prefix. So it’s a given that the practitioners of the 200-year-old genre known as “old-time music” will wear their antiquity proudly in “Fiddlin’,” a documentary set in and around the 80th annual Old Fiddler’s Convention in Galax, Va. What may not [...]

  • Jonah Hill attends the press conference

    Jonah Hill Passes on Role in 'The Batman'

    After being offered a role in “The Batman,” Jonah Hill has moved on from the project. Why exactly Hill is passing is currently unknown, and insiders tell Variety that when the news was initially reported, it was very early in the negotiations and that a deal was far from closing. The news comes after Zoe [...]

  • Daniel Kaluuya Elizabeth Moss

    SCAD Savannah Film Festival Honorees Include Daniel Kaluuya, Elisabeth Moss

    Daniel Kaluuya, Elisabeth Moss, Danielle Macdonald, Aldis Hodge, Valerie Pachner, Samantha Morton, Sienna Miller, Alan Silvestri and Olivia Wilde are set to be honored at the 22nd Annual SCAD Savannah Film Festival. Breakout Award honorees include Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Jharrel Jerome, Mena Massoud and Camila Morrone. Macdonald, who appears on Netflix in “Unbelievable” and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content