Upgrade is an unexpected triumph. I call it unexpected because the title of this movie is horrible (every time I say the title, I say it like Maya Rudolph’s character in Idiocracy, where it sounds more like “upgrayde”), and the marketing of the movie made it look like the kind of throwaway action flick we get every year: low budget, violent, minor actors, etc.
But Upgrade is far more than that. Upgrade is a smart, thrilling, compelling, funny, socially relevant film and one of the very best of the year.
Set in the near-future, where technology is contained in almost every aspect of life, technophobe Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) has his perfect world flipped upside down when he and his wife are victims of an unspeakable crime. Bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, Grey is on the brink of taking his own life when a tech-wizard (Harrison Gilbert) has come up with a new technology called the Stem that would allow Grey to walk again and get revenge on the men who did this to him. However, Grey soon realizes the capabilities of Stem, which causes a social and moral quandary.
Writer/director Leigh Whannell went back in time for this one, making a science fiction film we don’t usually see anymore. The movie feels like if Paul Verhoeven made Robocop today. There is a grittiness, attitude, and fun to this movie that is very reminiscent of the 80’s. The violence is bloody, the action is smooth, and the cinematography and editing are visceral. We are immersed in this city and this time, a time where most things are laced with technology, yet robots and holograms aren’t everywhere. Whannell put together some spectacular action sequences that are wildly entertaining, especially the first fight sequence when Grey realizes the power of Stem.
Whannell combines these great visual elements with strong themes about our dependency of technology. As times advance and we get cool, new technology that we have never seen before, we have to ask ourselves just how powerful these new inventions are and how they could possibly go wrong. These themes linger throughout the movie and well after, as the film finale is a haunting one you won’t forget. It is as timely of a topic as any.
Logan Marshall-Green is incredible. Normally a supporting character actor, Marshall-Green finally has his chance to shine and he takes it. He owns every inch of this movie, playing a full range of emotions from happy technophobe, to suicidal quadriplegic, to a man who can’t handle his new life, to a make taken over by the technology the has saved him. His line delivery and one-liners are perfect and the physicality of the performance, from the fighting sequences to the robotic walking movement, are all perfect. It’s a star-making performance and one of my favorite of the year.
The supporting cast is a lot of fun as well. Better Gabriel’s star continues to rise, as she plays the detective assigned to Grey’s case. Harrison Gilbert is great as the scientist who implants Grey with Stem. Benedict Hardie, reminiscent of Robert Patrick as T-1000 in Terminator 2, is terrifying as our main villain. And Simon Maiden’s voice is haunting as Stem. It is far and away the scariest robotic voice since Hal 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Upgrade is a great, great movie. A smart, timely, exciting sci-fi movie reminiscent of the legendary movies from the 80’s. Seek this movie out, as it is one of the best of 2018.
Did you see Upgrade? What did you think? Comment below or hit me up on Twitter and Instagram, @kevflix, or on Facebook by searching Kevflix.