Movie Review: ‘Upgrade’
Plot: Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) is a stay at home mechanic who fixes up classic cars for clients, prefers working with his hands, and abhors most technology. When Grey and his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) are brutally attacked, the incident leaves Asha dead and Grey paralyzed from the neck down. Months later, tech innovator and former client Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) approaches Grey with an amazing offer. Eron has developed a new technology called STEM, an A.I. chip that can serve as an auxiliary brain and allow Grey to walk again. While the results are miraculous, Grey gets more than he bargained for. Before long Grey embarks on a journey to hunt down his wife’s killers and bring them to justice. But STEM’s motivations aren’t the same as Grey’s and the consequences could prove to be devastating.
***WARNING!!! SOME SPOILERS BELOW!!!***
Upgrade was one of those films I’d been hearing a lot of chatter about for a while. Despite a relatively low-budget and a limited release in theaters, the buzz was strong on this one as both audience members and critics alike sung its praises. After waiting several weeks for my library to get me a copy (yes I still use libraries kids), I finally got a chance to sit down and watch director Leigh Whannell’s second feature film. So did the reality match the hype?
The answer is a resounding YES.
Slick, impeccably written, and chocked full of action, Upgrade is a rare treat in that it succeeds as a sci-fi actioner, while managing to add solid social commentary. With Upgrade, director Leigh Whannel (who also wrote the film), has created a believable near future where scientific advancements blur the line between man and machine. In a world that already contains self-driving cars (something featured prominently in the film) and robotic appendages, Whannel’s film possesses an air of verisimilitude that Shane Black’s The Predator lacks. It may be the most interesting look into identity and the blurring of man and machine since Robocop.
It’s this very authenticity that fleshes out Upgrade in remarkable fashion. Credit goes to cinematographer Stefan Duscio who executes Whannel’s vision perfectly. Although made for only $5 million, Upgrade feels and looks like a $100 million dollar movie. Duscio captures broad city landscapes and intimate fight choreography (which are BAD ASS) with equal aplomb. I really appreciated how Whannel plays with light and shadow in Upgrade as well as his use of the color red.
The acting in Upgrade is also solid. Logan Marshall-Green is magnificent. I totally bought him in this role. He manages to infuse some real pathos into Grey. Marshall-Green’s Grey is a truly tortured soul, consumed by grief and “looking for the off switch.” There’s an amazing moment where his Mom is washing Grey after the accident and there’s no words but you see Grey break down in tears. Marshall-Green conveys such despair in that moment that’s offset by his mother’s comforting embrace. Yet he’s also a man that, as the movie progresses, begins to lose his sense of self as STEM becomes more and more ascendant. (Speaking of, Simon Maiden’s voice work is phenomenal here. He goes from helpful, to dominant, to threatening, to chilling with ease.)
My one criticism of Upgrade however was that most of the secondary characters, especially Harrison Gilbertson’s (STEM’s creator) Eron Keen get a bit of short shrift. Betty Gabriel’s Detective Cortez is the standout among the supporting cast in Upgrade. I loved her turn in last year’s Get Out and I sincerely believe she’s got bigger things on the horizon, with or without Blumhouse productions. However, Upgrade is very much Marshall-Green’s vehicle and the focus remains on him throughout the film. So from that perspective I understand what Whannel was going for. I just wish I’d gotten a bit more out of the supporting cast.
One note on the ending, which I won’t ruin. If you’re passing intelligent you may feel that you’ve guessed the ending. I know I did. Trust me, whatever you think–you’re wrong. The ending absolutely floored me. It sets up a possible sequel but even if we don’t get one, Upgrade stands on its own as a great film. While this movie flew under the radar, this is definitely one you don’t want to miss.
My rating System:
0-1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
4 Sub Par
8 Very Good
10 A Must See
You can follow me on Twitter at @DarthGandalf1