By The Nerdling
Upgrade is a sci-fi, action flick which borrows heavily from past films such as RoboCop, Universal Soldier, and The Terminator, with a by the numbers revenge plot and nothing new to say about our growing fears of rapid technological development. That doesn’t mean it is not thoroughly entertaining B-movie. The Leigh Whannell directed, low-budget film is well stylized and makes great use of its talented lead.
Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) is a technophobe mechanic who restores classic cars and sells them off to the super rich. His wife, Asha (Melanie Vallejo), very much enjoys the luxury technology brings such as her self-driving car and a smart home. I would make fun of the badly clichéd couple, but my husband longs for the pre-smart phone days as I drag him unwillingly into digital future. Suffice to say, I can relate to the love-birds.
One-night, Grey and Asha are jumped by a group of men in masks. Asha is killed while Grey is paralyzed from the waist down. Grey is a virile man used to working with his hands, now he is forced to live a life where computers have to do everything for him. Until Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), a billionaire tech wiz kid, comes to Grey with a solution.
STEM, is a micro-computer Eron wants to fuse to Grey’s nervous system. The computer will interpret the brain signals coming from Grey and movie his body accordingly. Since STEM is not approved for human trials just yet, Grey has to keep his new advancement a secret. What Eron failed to mention is STEM is also contains artificial intelligence. STEM talks to Grey and helps the grieving husband find his wife’s killers.
If you have seen any revenge flicks, then you know exactly how Upgrade plays out. The “twist” of who is behind Asha and Grey’s attack becomes painfully obvious once the catalyst for this event begins. What was surprising was how the film decided to play out after the “twist” was revealed.
This is Whannell’s second time directing a film, the first being the third outing in the Insidious franchise in which he also wrote the script. Whannell was also a creator of the Saw franchise, so expect the same amount of body horror those films made their name on. While his writing skills leave much to be desired, he tries to play with the camera movements of each scene as a way to make Upgrade a more interesting film. Whannell also makes good use of his minuscule budget. Not everyone in this not too distant future has all the technological updates, just the wealthy. Not a lot of futuristic cars and gadgets are shown. It makes for a quick commentary of the progression of the haves and have-nots.
Green is who really sells the film and its premise. He takes a one-note character and makes him sympathetic. The hero in revenge porn are always stoic, but Grey is sickened by the violence STEM creates with his body. His grief in losing his wife is palpable making his determination to find his wife’s killers more empathetic.
Green’s physical performance is the real marvel in Upgrade. It is subtle enough, but once STEM has been implanted, the way Green movies his body is different; more robotic. When Grey is in charge, he is a graceful man. The more STEM takes hold, the stiffer and more automated his movements become. The fighting is choreographed in this way and it can be seen as boring, but it is a brilliant choice by Whannell and the fight choreographer/Green’s stunt double, Chris Weir. Artificial Intelligence is not going to move with the grace of a skilled fighter, it will utilize movements which generate the maximum amount of damage with minimal effort. Green and Weir play this masterfully.
The rest of the cast performs their parts well enough, but the script gives them little to work with. This is a real shame in the case of Betty Gabriel portraying Cortez, a detective assigned to find Asha Trace’s murderer. Gabriel’s haunting performance in last year’s Get Out dominated every scene she was in. It was a shame to see her so underused here.
Upgrade is a solid B-movie with a been-there-seen-that premise which pays homage to revenge movies of old. Green’s portrayal of Grey Trace is the real highlight of an otherwise interesting looking, but overall okay film.
The Nerdling was born in the majestic land known as Texas and currently resides there after several years of journeying through Middle Earth in a failed attempt to steal the one Ring from that annoying hobbit, serving the Galactic Empire for a time, and then a short stint as a crew member on the Serenity. Since moving back to her homeland, Nerdling flirted with a hero reputation. Saving children from the dangers of adoring domineering, sparkly vampires (champions with souls are the only vampires worth loving) and teaching normals the value of nerdom, all while rooting for her beloved Dallas Stars. Then came the Sokovia Accords and her short spell of saving others came to an end. With Darth Vader’s reputation rightfully returning to badass status, Nerdling is making her way back to the Empire. They do have cookies, you know. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.