Science fiction is one of my favorite genre for storytelling. No matter how grand, or small the scope of the stories are I could name you around dozen science fiction work that completely engrossed me. An appeal of it for me is how versatile it’s visionaries can be. Expertly using the realm of sci-fi to provide commentary on humanity, takes us to places beyond imagination, and in the case of Upgrade be a schlocky low budget, hard sci-fi thriller done correctly.
Upgrade premise is the classic story of a ordinary man getting revenge. Grey Trace (Logan Marshall Green) witnesses his wife getting killed, mopes around for a bit with his thoughts, gets a computer chip called STEM implanted into him after being paralyzed, and getting pushed into taking vengeance on those who wronged him. In between all the cool action bits, and dark humor at the expense of its protagonist. Comes plenty of serious moments waving around in quality. It can be difficult to remain engaged in the story during the whodunnit segments, and collecting clues since the main story is predictable. Preventing this from becoming a growing issue is the film writer/director, Leigh Whannell, developing it lead character psychology. Showing Grey Trace mental, and physical destruction as the movie progress in a move that pays off in the long run.
What Upgrade lacks in consistency in engaging material it makes up for it in its ending. It one of the few instances where it turned a good movie into a great one for me. Mostly because the ending gives some added depth to everything that came before. Making the dynamic between talking computer chip STEM, and Grey Trace that much better. It doesn’t excuse the feeling of it dragging at points, but it ends on a such a high note it’s easy to forget about.
One area the movie falter without much to redeem it is the failed attempt at commentary. Throughout the movie Grey Trace technophobia will be reestablished multiple times, and bits about technology improving humanity. There’s some dialogue establishing bits of the world where more jobs are being lost to machines. As well there being bits mentioning the living conditions of the rich, and the poor. These parts of the story feel like an afterthought when undermined by the man vs. machine, and revenge driven storyline.
The standout moments in Upgrade are easily the four action sequences, and the small satisfying amount of blood, and gore. Tightly choreographed with kinetic cinematography swaying as it follow the action. Offers the film’s most visually inspired moments. Two of the fight sequences in the movie have offer brutal kills, and great practical gore effects that makes those moments easily memorable. It’s impossible not to get excited about an upcoming action sequence when they are edited masterfully, and are visually interesting. As for the climax it doesn’t offer up gore, but it will provide the best fight sequence in the film. Made impressive by the fact it’s not even a martial movie, nor does it have complex martial art moves.
Beyond the cool fight scenes is Upgrade’s one car chase is the least exciting action set piece in the movie. There’s not much to it other than everyone involve driving carefully, and there’s no hiding the cars aren’t going fast either through the many long shots. One car is ahead, and the other is trying to catch up to it without much happening in between.
For a low budget science fiction movie the most advance pieces of technology are drones, and literal handguns (yes, people can fire bullets from their hands). Other than that the technology being kept grounded for that hard sci-fi aesthetics. Providing a gritty detail to its overall look. Offering nice contrast between the glossy high tech look of the rich, and the grimy outdated looking tech of the poor.
Logan Marshall Green is the standout in the acting cast. Taking front, and center there’s hardly a single scene he isn’t part off. Doing a fantastic job to make the viewer sympathize with his character all the while being able to deliver some dark jokes. Providing his character great urgency in his journey. One difficult bit in his performance is performing an action scene where STEM takes over his body during a fight, and must act comedically horrified he’s beating a man to bloody pulp. Pulling off the difficult scene successfully to make it one of its most memorable moments. Plus, a nice touch in his performance is Green switching up how human, and how mechanically he moves in different portions of the movie.
Other standout in the movie is Simon Maiden who voices STEM. He’s portrays a emotionally detached computer voice with some enthusiasm. Coming across robotic, but not stoic. Rest of the cast pretty much plays it straight with their single minded characters. They do well in their roles ensuring there isn’t a weak link to the best of their abilities. Any actor who took part in the fight sequences also deserves some praise brilliantly performing them through robotic movements. The cinematography, and music score their job. Occasionally from both you’ll get inspired bits creating energy in a scene, but generally aren’t noteworthy most of the time.
It’s a simple movie with simple goals that knows not to take itself too seriously. The takeaways from Ugrapde are easily the action sequences, the gore, and the ending. There’s still plenty in the movie to appreciate from Logan Marshall Green performance, the dark humor, and its lead character destruction for a majority of the run time. Upgrade offers entertainment of a schlocky B-movie with all the right touches to make it a cult classic over time.