Upgrade: A Genuinely Good Sci-Fi Actioner
Review by Aaron Haughton
Upgrade comes from the mind of Leigh Whannell, best known for his penmanship on the Saw and Insidious franchises. The film promises loads of quality grindhouse thrills with a heavy dollop of sci-fi and a trace of body horror, and it manages to deliver in a surprisingly entertaining way that is all consuming.
Whannell's screenplay lives within the shell of clichés, but he navigates them in a cool, fun, and viscerally stylish way. The film pulls from a lot of places, more notably Terminator 2, Robocop, and Blade Runner, with a tinge of the Cronenbergesque, and also gives off an air of an extended Black Mirror episode. Regardless of the influence, Whannell manages to thoroughly engross us in this film through its fantastically unique and electrifying kinetic camerawork (owed in part to cinematographer Stefan Duscio), and Whannell's taut screenplay.
Upgrade is the kind of genre film that scarcely gets produced today, and it calls back to B-movies (most notably that of the 70s and 80s) through its pastiche of sci-fi, action, and horror. The story is something that we've seen many times before (a standard revenge story), but the sci-fi setting makes it standout from other films like John Wick, and the world building is very nicely done. The film, like the main character, sometimes switches off its brain, but it's smarter than it appears and is a very ambitious, well-crafted offering.
In addition to the lively camerawork and vibrant style, the film is extraordinarily uplifted by a fantastic, career best performance from Logan Marshall-Green. With Upgrade, Marshall-Green brings a sense of physicality to the film, both in the sense of the brawling action and his horrified and confused facial expressions that directly contradict the mayhem that unfolds on screen. No longer should he be known as a "poor man's Tom Hardy", as he's completely destroyed that shackling here, coming into his own with an explosive gust of force.
Aside from Marshall-Green's performance as Grey Trace, the rest of the characters sag with a bit of soggy development, and some of the acting ranges from the overly melodramatic (mainly Melanie Vallejo who plays Marshall-Green's wife) to the "just OK" (any of the "bad guys" really). Despite all this, Betty Gabriel and Harrison Gilbertson manage to deliver fairly solid performances; although, its a shame that their characters aren't as fully fleshed out as they could be.
It's not a perfect film, but it perseveres through its style and execution, which allow it to crawl out from under its familiar trappings. It's incredibly well paced and doesn't overstay its welcome in the slightest; it's a get in, get out of type of film that won't leave you feeling bored for long, if at all. With a budget of only 5 million dollars it does some truly impressive things technically and creates a believable and lived in sci-fi world, cut from the cloth of Philip K. Dick.
If you're into sci-fi action entertainment with an engaging concept, non-stop thrills, and a few surprises, look no further than Upgrade. Just turn your brain over to the computer implant that is the film and bask in all its grindhouse glory.
Rating: 4 super computer body implants outta 5.
What do you think? Did Upgrade take you by surprise? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!