Rated: R for strong violence, grisly images, and language. Reviewed by: Frank and Jim Release date: June 1, 2018 Released by: OTL Releasing
Every once in a while I'm surprised to be watching a film that had little expectations for me that is a hidden treasure. Upgrade is one of those special treats.
Directed and written by Leigh Whannell the story takes place in the relatively near future where technical elements have a firm control over people. Director Whannell fills the early scenes with spectacular art and set direction using color and camera position to set an atmosphere that gives the image of non reality but filled with beauty.
Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) lives in a stunning mansion with his very successful wife (Melanie Vallejo) she is the brilliant breadwinner working in the technical field that dominates the script. Trace in the opening scene is tinkering in his garage that is filled with all the toys of his life. Small trucks that a child would play with, musical producing instruments from the past and most important a muscle car he is restoring. Asha Trace (Vallejo) arrives home from work in a smooth automated vehicle that drives itself once programed with a destination.
Grey Trace's interest in past vehicles and other items from his past place him a little out of the main stream in this new world of technology control. But together he and his wife are comfortably happy and obviously in love.
Shortly after we are introduced to their opulent home and lifestyle they head out in her self driving vehicle for a night on the town. Discovering that not having to drive a car can have advantages they begin to take an amorous interest in each other. At that point the safe conduct by the modern car looses control and begins to speed out of control and in a direction they do not want to take. At that point the film takes a total new direction. The couple suddenly are confronted by four thugs who quickly shoot his wife and leave him paralyzed.
Revenge films are a guilty pleasure. While Grey Trace is in a hospital he is visited by Eron (Harrison Gilbertson) a wealthy, brilliant but questionable genius who offers to restore Gray's body from being paralyzed from the neck down to full ability to function as in the past. Grey has one ambition and that is revenge on the four who killed his wife and attacked him. Cortez (Betty Gabriel) is the detective investigating the murder and cautioning Grey to let her solve the murder and stay out of it. She does not know he has implemented with STEM by Eron giving Grey full and more strength and power than he could have imagined.
From there he is a killing machine learning that the killer of his wife had no gun during the murder but has a built in firearm in his left arm. The killers actions remind of Taxi Driver and the sling action used to slip a gun from the sleeve from his arm. Further discovery leads to the science fiction factors in the script laced with strong violence as Grey moves on the killers and as in Death Wish keeping his ability to destroy the bad guys from the local detective.
Some of the marshal arts type fights detract from the main theme of the film but the twists and the exceptional filming make this a quality thriller.
Saw franchise co-creator and director of Insidious 3 Leigh Whannel stokes this fantasy-thriller more towards gamers set in the very near future.
His Upgrade stars Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus, The Invitation, Spider-Man: Homecoming) as Grey Trace, a muscle car repairman whose missus (a little seen Melanie Vallejo) maintains a lucrative career in the prosthetic limb business.
The storyline from Whannel (also an actor in the original Saw and Insidious) will be familiar to anyone privy to the likes of Robocop or Death Wish, not to mention The Terminator, Escape From New York or The Matrix.
Providing a service to billionaire inventor/tycoon Eron (Harrison Gilbertson) leads to a deadly ambush leaving Grey a quadriplegic. So, thanks to his prosperous retainer the luddite acquiesces to a STEM implant in his brain stem (atop the spinal column) that changes his situation. The newfangled computer chip has a controlling aspect (which allows for conversing since it isn't neurologically savvy) to stimulate a necessary puissance for a few intense choreographed sequences.
This biomechanical fusion invites some jocular raillery in an autopilot vengeance underscoring the overall second-hand nature of an enterprise where automated cars and smart homes are very present. Betty Gabriel's Cortez represents the tireless law enforcement in an oppressive environment where scrutiny isn't that segueing effectual.
Upgrade has a scantiness that will be welcome, at least by those onto its character and narrative deficiencies, as tightly drawn confrontations mount to occasional gory effect. But, in Whannel's hands the pacing isn't packing much into its foreboding technological mood prevailed by a modest production; and subsequent segueing through liveliness and upheaval, thus sabotaging cohesiveness and thematic resonance.
Still, this won't bother those into STEM and how Grey must face his dilemma and stiffer competition in the form of a symbiotic graft. A venomous ardor will accompany a carnal enhancement essentially quenching a video application cautionary of the accelerating digital world. Where pain threshold can be neutralized, as combat and data are set into motion and gathered accordingly. Too bad a willing Logan Marshall-Green really isn't molded more efficiently into a straightforward cinematic stratagem in need of more than a high-tech modernization.