The test of a genre movie is whether it can cross over to a broader audience. Do you care about Harry Potter if you hardly know what Hogwarts is? Alfonso Cuaron’s stylish, haunting Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azbakan makes you care. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 zooms its way beyond action-hero fans. The elaborately artificial video-game-come-to-life TRON: Legacy, not so much.
I’ll leave it to techno-wizards and sci-fi enthusiasts to judge whether their genre-loving friends will be impressed, but for those of us interested in people on screen -- even if they’re virtual or cartoonish – there’s not much reason to care about first-time director Joseph Kosinski’s tech-driven movie. There are, in fact, exactly two sequences worth paying attention to.
There should have been more because a human story is buried somewhere in this sequel, set 20 years after digital game creator Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) became trapped in the Grid, the virtual world he made. Now his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) goes in to find him; cue the lost-father and son drama. The 3-D effects are plenty 3-D, although it’s easy to feel as if you’re trapped inside a room full of blue neon lights. There’s even a tantalizing Big Brother vs. Utopia theme, as the Flynns reach for a world of free information and the corporate suits running the Flynn company use technology for profit. The movie glides along easily enough, but then those two scenes pop up to make you realize how moribund the rest of it really is.
I’m not talking about weirdly fascinating episodes. They are the scenes with a CGI recreation of Bridges as he was in the days of the first TRON, a character painstakingly constructed from a 3-D recreation based on photos of Bridges 20 years ago and sensors placed on his face to capture his expressions today. Nice try. Young Jeff looks like a spooky puppet. That’s actually OK for Flynn’s digital alter-ego turned enemy, Clu; he’s meant to be a virtual creation. It’s distracting when we see flashbacks to Puppet Kevin.
No, the best scene belongs to the real, older Bridges. I won’t give away the end of the father-son story, although it’s not hard to guess. Enough to say that Bridges has a moment when he looks at the camera, his face fills with emotion, and he single-handedly brings humanity to a film that doesn’t help him one bit. That is acting.
The other must-see sequences simply perk things up. Michael Sheen plays Castor, a David-Bowie-inspired club owner. Sheen is a hoot, prancing around in a powder-blue jumpsuit and platinum wig, strutting like Charlie Chaplin, bringing the film an exuberant burst of energy. His screen time is slight.
The season’s real Jeff Bridges film, True Grit, arrives next week, so even his most passionate fans don’t need to jump at this one. But here’s a glimpse of Sheen’s high-voltage performance.
There. For most is us, that’s all of TRON we’ll ever need to see.