Upgrade - 2018
Director(s): Leigh Whannell
Writer(s): Leigh Whannell
Cinematography by: Stefan Duscio
Editor(s): Andy Canny
Cast: Logan Marshall-Green, Simon Maiden (voice), Benedict Hardie and Harrison Gilbertson
Synopsis: Set in the near-future, technology controls nearly all aspects of life. But when Grey, a self-identified technophobe, has his world turned upside down, his only hope for revenge is an experimental computer chip implant called Stem (IMDB).
When you strip down this movie down to its core, it’s just a revenge thriller with a modern twist. I see it as the stepchild of RoboCop and The Crow, even if it doesn’t reach the same heights cinematically. This movie centers around Grey, played extremely well by Logan Marshall-Green, a muscle car enthusiast and mechanic in a world full of self-driving cars. After a tragic event that takes away his wife and his ability to move, Grey is given a second chance at life and revenge when Stem, a secret computer chip, is implanted in his spine, allowing him to walk again. This is a glorious B movie and I enjoyed it despite all its flaws. Let’s talk about it.
Writer-director Leigh Whannell is best known for his work in the Saw and Insidious franchise, mainly as a writer. He made his directorial debut with 2015’s Insidious Chapter 3 and while I wasn’t blown away by this debut, I wasn’t thinking “stick to your day job, kid” either. In this follow up, he demonstrated a great eye for action, mainly during the fight sequences which are the highlight of the entire movie. The way Leigh and cinematographer Stefan Duscio employed the camera to take the audiences along for the ride was a treat. Since our protagonist isn’t in control of his body - the chip takes over during the fights - his rapid and somewhat unrealistic movements are shocking and jarring to him and to the audience thanks the camera is following him at a rapid pace. The fights are visceral, creative and funny because Grey is in awe and shocked at his ability to fight.
Quick note: props should be given to Chris Weir the fight choreographer and the stunt double of Logan, since the fights are by far what makes this movie fun.
As for the story Leigh wrote, while it’s drenched in the tropes of a revenge thriller, there is nothing too egregious that takes you completely out of the experience. Yes, you can kind of see the end coming from a mile away, with a minor “twist”, and yes, you can see the steps it takes to get there coming as well. But the ride was so much fun, both in acting and in action, that I just ignored the tropes. Not that the writing doesn’t have its clever moments or that you can’t dig a bit deeper into the metaphors. I liked that Grey is a mechanic working on muscle cars. The movie opens with him fixing the car’s motor so it can run once again, essentially what Stem will do for him down the road. And you can take the Stem chip controlling him as a metaphor for depression and the need for revenge taking over his life and controlling his actions. Am I reaching? Maybe.
Quick note: I really appreciate that this future world didn’t look like Blade Runner. It’s a futuristic world that felt familiar - since you can see our world turning like this - and new.
I have mentioned him a couple of times, but Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus – The Invitation) was simply fantastic in this movie and elevated the role from “Ok” to “Great”. The script asked a lot from him and he delivered, showcasing a wide range of emotions. I completely bought his depression and despair after the event took away his wife, and his ability to take care of things with his hands. There is a scene where he just starts crying out of nowhere that pulled at my heart strings a bit. During the fight scenes, he was hilarious and intimidating at the same time, giving a deeper layer to just someone throwing punches. I’ve always enjoyed him as an actor, and he really hasn’t ever been the problem in a movie but this is the first time that he has carried a movie this way.
Quick note: some may argue that the gore is a bit excessive and that it’s not needed but I think it is since Grey is in such shock at the actions and the violence his body is capable of that the audience must be shocked as well, and the gore helps.
Upgrade is a B-movie in the greatest sense. It has a simple premise, slightly…upgraded… for our modern times, and it’s elevated by a great performance. The action is well-choreographed, jarring and creative, giving something at every turn to keep the audience entertained. With little to no fat in the runtime it’s the perfect answer for audiences wanting an action-packed ride. Logan Marshall-Green is why I love movies.
Upgrade is currently playing in theaters. It’s fun.
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