Meet Kevin Flynn, Videogame Savant
Tron kicks off in the heart of the 1980s when wunderkind software engineer Kevin Flynn, played by Jeff Bridges, is caught hacking into the mainframe computer of ENCOM, a company where he used to work. Flynn is searching the mainframe for evidence that one of ENCOM's executives, Ed Dillinger, stole the code he wrote for several videogames, which set Dillinger on a meteoric rise in the company and got Flynn fired. While Flynn is busy hacking away, another ENCOM engineer, Alan Bradley, is working on a program called Tron to monitor the Master Control Program, or MCP, a program that oversees the mainframe computer that's gone rogue with plans to take over the computer systems at the Pentagon and the Kremlin (it was the '80s, after all). But when Flynn is caught hacking, the MCP beefs up security and stops Alan from accessing Tron, prompting him and his co-worker girlfriend, Lora Baines, to seek out the help of gaming genius Flynn. 4Chan users and WikiLeaks' fans would be proud.
Flynn Gets Computerized
So, how does Flynn get into the computer, you say? The trio devises a plan for Flynn to hack back into the mainframe from ENCOM's headquarters to simultaneously get proof that Dillinger stole his videogames and to help Alan access Tron. Flynn inadvertently gets to live the dream of geeks everywhere when the MCP catches him hacking and uses a laser to beam him into the mainframe computer. Inside the mainframe another conflict is brewing: The thankless MCP is trying to get computer programs—who show up in human form—to turn on their users, and if they don't, they're "derezzed" (which also is the title of Daft Punk's track for the new movie). All hail the '80s special effects!
Time for a nerd-gasm: One of the trailers for Tron: Legacy shows the characters riding sleek motorcycles, presumably back in ENCOM's mainframe. A special effects-challenged version of the motorcycles make an appearance in Tron as part of a series of games Flynn is forced to play against programs in the mainframe. After Tron rebels against the MCP by refusing to turn on his user, Alan, he and Flynn join forces with another rebel program to create their very own digital motorcycle gang.
Tron's First Triumph
After the motorcycle getaway, Tron heads to a communication tower to get in touch with Alan. In a moment of pure, nerdy bliss, Tron sends his Identity Disk—a disk that documents everything the programs learn while in the mainframe and if lost results in death—into a laser beam to contact Alan, practically cementing themselves as the ultimate nerd heroes. Alan instructs Tron on the final leg of the mission: Destroy the MCP.
A Showdown of the Computer Programs
Tron finds the MCP, which for such a formidable foe, turns out to be a mean cartoon-animated face. En route, Tron encounters the MCP's henchman, Sark, and the two battle it out cyberstyle. Flynn has navigated his way to the MCP in the meantime, and dives into the program's beam. With some maneuvering, he and Tron take over the MCP and kill Sark, proving they're the most badass guys in the mainframe.
Flynn Returns to Human Form
Flynn's dive into the MCP turns into a last-ditch effort to get back into the world of actual human beings… and it works. Just like he was lasered into the mainframe, Flynn is beamed out, with proof that Dillinger stole the videogames he invented. Flynn is freed from a lifetime of being an arcade boss: The revelation that Dillinger lied about the games seals Flynn's fate as the new exec of ENCOM. That is, until he goes missing and his son Sam enters the same computer world—albeit one with upgraded special effects—in Tron: Legacy.
Alex Berg is an assistant video editor at The Daily Beast. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post and iVillage. She holds an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University and a B.A. from Cornell University. You can see more of her work here.