a critiQal film review Upgrade (2018)

Plot: After his wife is killed during a brutal mugging that also leaves him paralyzed, Grey Trace (Marshall-Green) is approached by a billionaire inventor with an experimental cure that will “upgrade” his body. The cure – an Artificial Intelligence implant called STEM – gives Grey physical abilities beyond anything he's experienced, and the ability to relentlessly claim vengeance against those who murdered his wife and left him for dead.

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  • ...star Logan Marshall-Green and director Leigh Whannell deliver a classic revenge story with a high-tech twist.

When trying to decide which new movie to review, I keep going back to Avengers: Infinity War (2018), but shy away from it. Why? It’s cliffhanger ending I’ve heard about. Why subject myself to that when the new film is still over a year away? Instead, it was a toss-up between sci-fi thriller Upgrade and new comedy Tag (2018) (both new this week on DVD). I ended up, obviously, going with Upgrade.

So would Leigh Whannell (the guy stuck in the basement with Cary Elwes in Saw (2004)) be able to deliver behind the camera? Or would Upgrade be just another disappointment?

Logan Marshall-Green delivers in Upgrade. His strong performance resonates with viewers, and they easily get looped into this dark fantasy story thanks to him. Whether his character Grey is acting shocked when STEM is performing near-impossible feats, or just sunk into a melancholy that’s hard to break in the post-trauma bit of the film, he pulls viewers in with his performance.

That’s just as well, as most of the other characters in Upgrade don’t do much to help. Basically, the only other characters who entice viewers at all are the cop (Betty Gabriel) and Grey’s wife (Melanie Vallejo). Other than that, most of the characters seen on-screen are basically just henchman and mad scientist stereotypes, and don’t contribute much.

At its heart, Upgrade is a classic revenge pic with a high-tech twist. Sure that’s been done numerous times, but the film marries the two so well that it seems fresh. And, it just gives viewers more to enjoy, as they can sink their teeth into the revenge angle, yet marvel at the new tech. And, the film makes the whole idea seem so plausible the tech itself doesn’t seem like a far-flung fantasy. Instead, it seems like it could be something that’s being manufactured even now, which is both impressive and a little frightening.

But that’s not really a surprise from a writer/director like Leigh Whannell. After getting his break in Saw (2004) (which he also helped write), he’s been a contributing writer behind both that film series and another horror franchise, Insidious (2010). He obviously has his pulse on what makes a good horror premise, and turning that talent to a sci-fi thriller like Upgrade seems to have been an easy fit.

The special effects are top-notch in Upgrade. Whether it’s the abrupt machine-like actions of STEM when it takes over, or the impressive built-in tech (like an implanted working gun), the action sequences are quickly paced, and impressively done. Even the gore is shot well, with the camera not lingering too long, but long enough to give the overall impression before moving on.

The fight sequences of Upgrade bring to mind a high-tech Jason Bourne (back in The Bourne Identity (2002)) – a feeling of learned skills taking over without thought. Sure, most of these sequences are darker, so the viewer doesn’t have such a clear view of the impressive fights (which probably covers up any flaws a bit easier), but even so, these fights are impressively choreographed and filmed.

A strong performance by Logan Marshall-Green, a revenge plot with a high-tech twist, and strong fight sequences all help deliver an impressive film from director Leigh Whannell. Couple that with a shocking twist ending, and viewers will definitely enjoy this dark and violent Upgrade.

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