Before going to see "TRON: Legacy", I made sure to re-acquiant myself with the original "TRON", which came out in 1982. Watching it last week, I was impressed at what the filmmakers were able to accomplish with digital graphics given the technology of 1982, though admittedly the graphics have not aged well. However, taking the technical accomplishment out of the equation, there only seemed to be a basic framework of a story, which left me wanting more.
And "TRON: Legacy" definitely delivers more.
The movie starts in 1989, with a quick recap of the events of the first movie and the intervening years, as told by Kevin Flynn (the protagonist of "TRON", played in both movies by Jeff Bridges) to his son Sam. Then, following Kevin's sudden disappearance, the movie jumps ahead 20 years, where Encom is something akin to Microsoft and Google combined, and Sam is the majority stockholder, though on the outside of the board looking in. After a scene that establishes Sam's character motivations, we jump to the scene we all saw in every trailer -- the "I was paged from your dad's old office at the arcade" moment -- and when Sam visits the arcade, he's digitized onto the grid by the same laser that got Kevin in the first movie.
Now, here's where "TRON: Legacy" could have devolved into a re-hash of the entire first movie, placing Sam into Kevin's role, and Kevin into TRON's, but instead the movie built a whole new universe within the digital world. The story that takes place within the digital world was much deeper and more nuanced than I'd expected, with the conflict between Kevin and his creation, Clu, representing so much more than User vs Program.
When Kevin created Clu, he gave Clu the directive to create a perfect world within the digital space. But when a new race, neither program nor user, showed up, Kevin saw them as a miracle, while Clu saw them as an imperfection, creating a rift between the two. From there the mythology gets a little dense, but by the end I felt fully satisfied with the story the movie had presented.
Bridges does an excellent job in the dual roles of Kevin and Clu, and the characters really are two sides to the same coin. Pulling the movie together thematically is Olivia Wilde's Quorra, who is so much more than the eye candy she's made out to be by some of the trailers and ads. The weak link is probably Sam, played by Garrett Hedlund in a role I'm shocked didn't go to Shia LaBeouf.
I don't want to oversell the plot here, because it's far from perfect, and it does seem to get weighed down by its own metaphorical reaches, but it's significantly better than I'd anticipated. Still, the movie succeeds because of its visuals.
Now, unlike the original "TRON", "TRON: Legacy" doesn't make you sit back and say, "wow, I can't believe they were able to do that" (and that's mostly because we've seen movies do amazing things with CGI for a few years now). Instead, the digital world just comes to life in a visually engrossing way. There are little details of the world that just shine on the screen, my favorite being when Kevin is inspecting Quorra's digital DNA on her identity disc.
By far my favorite scene in the movie was the light-cycle scene. I don't have confirmation from the people that were in the theater with me, but I'm pretty sure my mouth was agape the entire time. The scene features a five-on-five, multi-level battle, and is just... well, there's no way to put it other than "fucking cool". It's like nerd eye-candy porn. Hell, the whole digital world is like that, and while it might not be considered ground-breaking, that doesn't make it any less awesome to watch.