Review in a Hurry: If you can get past its absurd premise, this return of Jeff Bridges to the inner computer world of light-cycles and deadly neon Frisbees is an eye-candyriffic holiday treat, with a killer soundtrack and 3-D visuals worthy of the huge screen.
The Bigger Picture: Back in the '80s, home computers were the cool new thing, and we imagined all sorts of things about them. When the original Tron put forth the premise that programs inside the machine could look like tiny people, enacting arcade video games, and that Jeff Bridges could be zapped by a laser and reformed as a living code in the grid...we kinda bought it.
Years later, we're a bit savvier. But you can't do a Tron sequel without that key notion, so here's the deal: If you find incredibly stupid the notion that programs inside a computer network can look, live and behave like people, or that people can literally become programs and vice versa, go no further. If you can roll with it, though, you're probably gonna have a good time. It's a bit like The Matrix sequels without the self-importance, and with a broader color scheme.
It would seem that seven years after the events depicted in the first film, Bridges' über-hacker Kevin Flynn vanished, leaving his kid Sam a delinquent prankster and biker, and leaving software giant Encom without a decent CEO. Now 27, Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund, adequately stoic) gets a visit from his dad's old pal Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) to say he received a page from the old Flynn's Arcade, which has been shuttered for 20 years but apparently still has full working electricity once you hit the breakers.
Blah blah blah...soon enough, Sam is zapped into the computer world and into the middle of a power struggle between his considerably weakened dad and the old man's ageless computer avatar, Clu (Bridges' digitally face-lifted mug on a body double). Having been designed to create a perfect system, Clu has become a virtual fascist, purging every detail he deems imperfect, while failing to realize that this behavior in itself is inherently imperfect.
The de-aged Bridges face on Clu works well enough but feels just slightly off-kilter, in a scarily artificial way that matches the character. What doesn't quite work is when we see young Flynn in flashbacks, and he looks exactly the same as Clu.
With all the lousy post-conversion movies of 2010, it's worth pointing out that this is one film where the 3D Imax is worth the extra fee. The extra-large screen clarifies details within action sequences that are easy to miss on a regular screen, while the use of 3D with occasional 2D actually serves the story (and no, haters, it isn't as simple as "real world 2D, virtual world 3D." There's more nuance at work in the visual choices).
The 180—a Second Opinion: Some of what we see feels a little too geared toward a sequel, particularly a subplot involving Clu's gladiatorial champion Rinzler.