TRON: Legacy is the big ocular love affair of 2010.  You can bring your brain to the party, but your eyes are gonna get asked to dance first.  Don’t feel too bad about it.  The in-house DJ is going to keep things moving.  Everybody gets to go home exhilarated.

Really, the first element of any write-up of TRON: Legacy has to be that it looks thoroughly fantastic.  I enjoyed everything about the movie, but let’s start with the most obvious and inescapable:  The primary draw of this movie is the astonishing look that first-time (!) feature director Joseph Kosinski and director of photography Claudio Miranda bring to it – with the assistance of the year’s most praise-worthy effects crew, of course.

The world of TRON: Legacy is a wellspring of light.  The movie’s primary setting is a cool, glowing blue, always set against shadowy, inky black space, which makes the blueness all the more inviting.  It’s an astounding place to visit:  I may not want to live there, but I might go back hoping to meet my next girlfriend.  I wasn’t kidding with what I said up above; this movie is a party for your senses.  If you’ve ever had a good experience at a dance club, you’ll no doubt feel transported back there.  If you’ve ever had a bad experience, that’s here too.  A movie of this size needs its villains, after all, and the equivalent trip to ‘Mount Doom’ is just as thrillingly rendered.  I saw TRON: Legacy sober as a judge, and I’m glad I did – I can’t imagine how I could have processed it stoned.  (I promise you that many will try.)  Here’s a movie that the rave kids and the sci-fi geeks can agree on.  Is that a good thing?  Up to you.  To my mind, at least it’s something new, and I’m always looking for something I haven’t seen already.  Have we had that in a major-studio big-budget sci-fi flick since The Matrix, way back in 1999?  Isn’t it time for another science-fiction movie to raise the visual coolness quotient unspooling at international multiplexes?  TRON: Legacy takes a major run at bringing the cool, and in my opinion it succeeds resoundingly.

Now, I haven’t seen the original 1982 TRON – just plain never had the occasion – so feel free to accept or dismiss my opinions as you choose.  I’m not the guy to tell you whether writers Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz (previously of Lost) were able to mount a Terminator-to-Terminator 2 achievement in expanding the mythology and raising the stakes.  From what I’ve been told about the story of the original TRON, I suspect they probably have. 

TRON: Legacy takes place two decades after the events of the original film.  The first film’s protagonist, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), disappeared almost two decades ago without a word, leaving his young son behind.  Now 28, Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) lives a vagabond’s life, running from responsibility, and specifically from stewardship of ENCOM, the corporation that his father created.  The corporation’s board members look to profit from the advances in technology that Kevin Flynn pioneered, so Sam makes sport of hacking into the company’s offices in daring late-night raids in order to steal them back for the public.  But that’s as involved as he’s willing to get, to the dismay of his father’s friend Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner from the original TRON) who sees more potential in Sam.

One night Alan comes to Sam and tells him that he received a mysterious message from Kevin’s lab, which has been abandoned for years and years.  Sam goes to investigate, and that’s how he ends up in the world of the Grid, that technocratic sphere of existence imagined by Sam’s father, which may n fact hold the answers to where Dad has been all these years.  We’ve all seen the trailers and the posters by now:  It’s not much of a secret that Kevin Flynn is alive and well and living in the Grid as a prisoner.  He’s been engaged in an epic battle of wills with the computer program he originally created to help him build this world, known as CLU.  They both sit in sleek towers, staring off at each other’s strongholds in the distance.  For reasons I don’t entirely understand (am I not geek enough?), CLU looks exactly like Kevin Flynn.  I don’t know, if I were to create a computer program in human form to help me with my work, she’d look a lot more like this.  Or okay, if I was in a different mood at the time, maybe like this.  Which may explain why Flynn is constantly accompanied by his Kato-esque sidekick Quorra, played by Olivia Wilde in an outfit that won’t need to wait for Halloween for certain people to adopt when dressing up for their weekending.

So what you essentially have here is a laser-highlighted Lord Of The Rings where Jeff Bridges plays both the good and the evil wizard, or a Star Wars where Jeff Bridges is both Han Solo and Darth Vader (only Han Solo is a Lebowski-style aging zen master and Darth Vader is a creepy young version of the same guy.)  I don’t think it’s a slam on TRON: Legacy to suggest that I was made to remember those myth-making franchises – at worst, I say steal from the best, if you have to steal, but really what I like about the allusions is that it makes TRON: Legacy relatable in a way that I didn’t expect I’d feel about a movie that might as well have been based on a video game for all I knew about it.  Instead, TRON: Legacy is about family, specifically about father and son, and it’s about self.  These are a couple very simple and broad subjects, but there’s a reason why they come up so often:  They tend to work.  Call me crazy, but I bought into the weird, warm yet stunted relationship between Sam and Kevin Flynn.  Or call me crazy for preferring this movie to most other effects-heavy extravaganzas just because of the Jeff Bridges factor.  I don’t care, especially if I’m that kind of crazy.  Jeff Bridges is one of my very favorite actors, has been since way before everyone else came around to his awesomeness (where were most of you guys in the days of Starman or Fearless or The Fisher King?), and for whatever else there is or isn’t to love about it, TRON: Legacy gives you double the Bridges. He’s the good guy and the bad guy.  Far out, man!  I definitely was more captivated by the older, real-faced more conflicted version, but it was a trip to see the de-aged version run around being nasty.  Sure, there are times when the graphics don’t quite capture a sense of the real thing (Computer Jeff Bridges sometimes looks like Beau Bridges, and randomly, a little like Bradley Cooper, towards the end) – but it was a fun stunt.  I’m not sure I’d want to return to this franchise without Jeff Bridges, but unlike most movies of this scale, I’ll definitely be returning to this particular movie just because of him.

I really liked Olivia Wilde too – I’ve only really seen her on magazine covers before, but I like the way she brought an innocent playfulness to a role that easily could have gone into boring one-note sex-object territory or over-done badass-femme-fatale-who-always-gets-kidnapped-anyway mode.  There’s not a lot of time in this movie to develop her character in a profound way (I rolled my eyes a little when her reading habits got crow-barred in there), but she takes enough initiative to make that under-developed-ness into a virtue by connecting it to the concept of this character not really knowing how to live like a complete human being yet yearning to try.  This is as good as it generally gets for female roles in big-budget action movies, but it’s an interesting start.   I also liked Garret Hedlund as the younger Flynn – I thought at times he was working on his best Bridges impression and if that’s the case you gotta respect it.  Hedlund has been around movies for a while (Troy, Four Brothers) but this one will probably raise his profile and that’s fine by me.  British actor Michael Sheen (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) is in the movie too, playing a wildly flamboyant supporting role that is weirdly common for this kind of movie.  He looks exactly like Tilda Swinton, actually.  I could’ve done without it, but it doesn’t go on long enough to be an issue.  Plus he’s always flanked by this lady, so I don’t have it in me to complain.

But really, TRON: Legacy works as well as it does for four major reasons:  1) Jeff Bridges, 2) Jeff Bridges, 3) the vision of promising director Joseph Kosinski, and of course, 4) the score by European dance act Daft Punk.  I love Daft Punk, but I won’t dwell on their terrific soundtrack because it’s already been blogged to death.  (Which is probably the name of someone’s blog, coincidentally.)  Let me just say that Daft Punk’s score is one of the best movie scores of the year.  It feels a whole lot like what John Carpenter would do, if he were a French robot person.  And yes, there is a Daft Punk cameo, by the way, and it’s a silly highlight of the movie.  The only thing I felt that TRON: Legacy was missing at the point that the cameo occurs was a breakdancing scene.  It’s really a thing of joy, looking at and listening to this movie.

At just over two hours, TRON: Legacy can be exhausting, and in the greatest Tarantino tradition it occasionally can feel like watching somebody else’s fetish movie (maybe Michael Mann’s? that dude used to love the neon), but in the end assessment, it was way cooler than I ever expected.  It looks like the future, or at least it looks like the kind of movie you’d figure we’d be watching in the future.  2010 was a year in which a significant number of TV viewers actually watched a show where a rapidly-aging housewife shoots at caribou.  It’s a year where small minds continued to debate scientific facts and the right of law-abiding human beings to love whomever they damn well please.  Sometimes a forward-thinking man has to wonder, When’s tomorrow gonna get here already? We’re already nine years past the future Kubrick dreamed about.  We’re in the damn future, people.  TRON: Legacy is one movie that is eager to look the part.  Give it some credit.  At least, go see it and tell me if I’m wrong.