If you were in the position that our main character is going through in writer/director Leigh Whannell and Blumhouse’s newest film Upgrade, you would want your body to be controlled and to do whatever you want? That’s a difficult thing to come up with while sitting through this. But it wouldn’t be the worst thing to have something controlling your brain when you get to know martial arts.
What’s The Story?: Taken place in the near future, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green, The Invitation, Prometheus) has been paralyzed after a brutal mugging and also leaving his wife murdered. When a billionaire inventor comes to him an artificial intelligence chip called STEM, it gives him the chance to enhance his entire body and walk again- but it also gives him seek revenge of the people who basically destroyed his life.
Before hearing anything about Upgrade, I didn’t know this even existed until it had its premiere at SXSW with the unexpected buzz that it garnered, and the red- band trailer that actually had me curious about this being a better version of the dreadful Hardcore Henry. And seeing that this is Leigh Whannell sophomore directorial effort film after helming the underrated Insidious: Chapter 3, Upgrade might be a small dose of small summer entertainment that won’t have much of an audience. Though it’s not the most impressive science fiction film to come out, it’s at least fascinating.
For a concept that’s essentially a revenge path has been done many times before just like in the Death Wish films or John Wick, some might be put off by that cliche and basic plotline. While Upgrade does follow in that direction, it goes for that but in an enjoyable fashion that can still be categorized as brutal. But does this the plot of somebody talking inside of the main person’s head sound like the upcoming Venom movie? Yes, but Upgrade is probably gonna be better, though.
One of the things that I was worried about going into this was Marshall-Green, a.k.a. “American Tom Hardy”, because he hasn’t proved himself to be the best actor in the world only after seeing him in a few movies beforehand. Here, he gives a solid performance. And I did start to like Grey because of what he’s gone through with the certain emotions that are shown on his face. There’s some good banter between him and STEM when he has no idea what he’s doing (when Grey’s the only one who can hear it).
When it comes to Whannell direction, his style is shown thoroughly with his usage of color throughout and a futuristic setting that doesn’t seem fake at all. This felt like this could’ve been made in the late 1980s and people would’ve embraced its strangeness that would fit right in.
Let’s say that the most engaging moments from the film is when Grey tells STEM to kick ass when taking over his body. The way that Whannell’s shoots the action sequences are very exciting that made the film feel more energetic and also quite funny when it incorporates some dark humor into them. It’s funny because Grey has no control of his body and his expressions about what he’s doing gains a few chuckles.
Personally, there were some flaws in the film that I can’t get passed. Some of the writing kind of came off as cheesy in the first 20 minutes. The bad guys that Grey is tracking made me not care enough about who they are and the main guy doesn’t have any amount of personality. And that goes the same with Detective Cortez (Betty Gabriel, Get Out), who’s working on Grey’s case because we barely don’t know anything about her character.
Even when thinking about what this was trying to pull through, the film mainly touches on the use of technology and how we are becoming obsessed with them and not with our hands. That’s basically gonna be the future.
Movie Math: John Wick + Robocop x Ex Machina= Upgrade
Having a consistent tone, a good performance from Marshall-Green, and some sweet action that’s incredible, Upgrade does mark another win for Whannell. It was a little disappointing that I wanted to enjoy this a lot more because of the positivity that’s been going around. Maybe it was because I was a little tired when I was watching it, but it’s something that I might want to rewatch to fully appreciate it more.
While Upgrade doesn’t hit all its marks with some weak writing and an overdone plot, it makes up by making itself an original sci-fi B-movie.