I'll start this with a confession: I've never seen the original Tron, which at the time was on the cutting edge of special effects technology. So going into this film, I wasn't familiar with the mythology of the story. But would prior knowledge be necessary for enjoying Tron: Legacy, the long-in-the-making sequel?
Well, yes and no. The film begins with everything we need to know: not long after Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) created the world on the Grid with Tron, he becomes trapped in that world, leaving behind his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund). Sam inherits his father's company, Encom, but shirks the responsibilities in favor of an annual prank on the company. But when a page comes in from his dad's old arcade, Sam soon finds himself sucked into the Grid, where he has to help his father escape and prevent his creation, Clu (Jeff Bridges circa 1984), from leaving the Grid and entering our world, where his drive for perfection would result in our destruction.
With a few extended scenes of exposition, the film makes sure that newcomers to Tron catch up to the present. However, in the meantime there's a myriad of new elements, many of which aren't thoroughly explained or seem to have much significance (the script was written by Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, who both wrote for Lost). There's a (subtly pro-Evolution) strand about a group of code "people" that were spontaneously created, but then completely wiped out by Clu because he deemed them "not perfect." And as a whole there's not much depth to any of the characters: Clu is driven by perfectionism, Kevin is a hippie, Sam is a blank hero but devoted son, and Quorra (Olivia Wilde) is a wild-eyed warrior-pixie who's face is in a perpetual state of astonishment. Michael Sheen makes a very odd, flamboyant appearance as a man of many connections, and Tron himself barely makes an appearance. In the end, little of it really makes sense; its too much information for a two-hour movie.
There's plenty of good things going on here, though. First off, the action and adventure of the film makes up for the lack of coherent plot; like many action movies, its enjoyable if you don't think about it. Daft Punk's propulsive soundtrack also lends itself well to the feel of the world, perfectly in place with the futuristic clubs and digital armies. The film's visuals are also excellent, creating a cool digital world that's inventive and chilly. First-time director Joseph Kosinski shows some real flair visually, staging the action in exciting ways and making the Grid the kind of digital space one would like to explore (the film didn't perform well at the box office, so I worry that Kosinski might end up like Kerry Conran in the pantheon of great visual directors who don't get a second chance). And come on, seeing present-day Jeff Bridges fight 1980s Jeff Bridges is very awesome, and though a little plastic-y in some scenes (particularly in all-effects ones), the young-Bridges is convincing. I have to say I'd be remiss if I didn't want a lightcycle of my own before the credits started rolling.
As a PG-rated action film, Tron: Legacy is a decent enough film to pass the time with. I didn't see it in 3D, so I can't say how good or bad that was. Life lessons are learned, and the heroes and the villains meet for the climatic battle. There's not a lot of logic to it all, but it the shiny package it comes wrapped in is worth a look.
*Another minor note: the film only received one Oscar nomination, for sound editing. I don't see why visual effects and art direction couldn't be in the mix as well, as both were very impressive.