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“Tron: Legacy,” reviewed

“Tron: Legacy,” reviewed (photo)

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In 1982, Tron captivated a small, devoted following of tech nerds, video game players and young viewers with a vision of a day-glo cyberworld. Computer programmer and game designer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) gets zapped into his own video game where he must fight for his life and then return to reality to claim the rightful credit for his work.

Garret Hedlund’s Sam Flynn stands in for the acolytes who’ve been awaiting their return to “Tron”‘s Game Grid universe. He’s a brash, cocky conscientious objector from the corporate rat race, despite being an heir to the Encom empire that his father built. Kevin Flynn’s been missing for more than two decades and his open-source, change-the-world mentality’s been turned into another profit mill by the company’s taskmasters.

A plot contrivance brings Sam to his dad’s old arcade where he gets zapped into the digital world of the Game Grid. After a high-octane disc deathmatch , he awkwardly reunites with his dad, who’s been trapped in the world of his own creation by evil digital doppelganger Clu. Clu wants to claim the real world as his own and has lured Sam to the Grid to force open the portal that connects the physical and digital worlds.

As has been famously hyped, Jeff Bridges pulls double duty as both Kevin Flynn and his CGI avatar Clu. Digi-Bridges looks impressive throughout the movie, except for the climactic scene where he looks fake and emotionally hollow. It’s the worse place for the technology to break down, even if the movie’s emotional notes are unavoidably broad. But, overall, Bridges plays Flynn as a techno-hippie and the Cyber-Dude abides. It’s really his movie and he steals most of the scenes he’s in. Hedlund, however, just delivers a hunky Australian blandness that you could call Sam Worthington 2.0. Olivia Wilde’s comely wide-eyed AI naïf embodies a weird streak of digital nativism about spontaneously generated, self-aware programs. Sadly, that intriguing idea–complete with a cyber version of the Trail of Tears–withers on the vine.

As a grown-up gamer, that’s where “Legacy” most disappoints me. It gestures at some really interesting ideas, but leaves them all woefully underdeveloped. We first see Flynn as a reclusive demi-god and later learn about the ISOs—those self-aware programs–and how special they were going to be. But we’re never shown that specialness. There’s hints of a tension between human and programs–lines about the “Tyranny of the User” and scenes of seething virtual personas angry at their abandonment–but, again, that stuff is left to the viewer to wonder about.

Where the new “Tron” stumbles most noticeably is ironically in the legacy department. The movie works heavy-handedly as a take absentee parenthood, re-purposed creativity or a postponed coming-of-age. But it doesn’t feel digital. Rather, it feels like a walled-off understanding of what the last 28 years of digital advancements means and how they’ve changed our lives. The movie spends a lot of time telling us how gifted Sam and Flynn are, but offers up nothing more than glimpses of said power. Flynn does the occasional trick of virtual hoodoo in the Grid but it mostly feels like weaksauce since he’s the guy who built the place. There’s no hyper-connectivity, no meta-awareness in either Sam or Flynn yet anyone who’s on Twitter or Foursquare knows what it’s like to get a constant feed of info about the world you’re in. That’s the reality we live in now, and as a gamer and a nerd, I wanted Tron to address that more directly. In fact, I kept comparing t to “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” and how Edgar Wright wove in a sort of meme-hungry digital intuition into his adaptation of the video game love story from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels. “SPVTW” pulsed and throbbed and morphed with all the ease of a virtual world, even though it was set in Toronto.

Maybe this is all too much to expect from a Disney holiday blockbuster. Indeed, if you leave aside all the metaphorical hopes and long-brewing anticipation, Tron: Legacy’s perfectly enjoyable as a visually stunning spectacle. The effects and aesthetic dazzle, especially when game objects coalesce from the ether for battle or chase sequences. Those sequences make the movie, especially the set pieces that present game competition as a digital bloodsport NASCAR. Yet, even those scenes frustrate because they don’t feel video game enough. “Tron: Legacy” feels obsolete, even as it’s still uploading into theaters.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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