The future is cool in Upgrade. It is grounded and believable but still slightly out of reach from what we have in the present. It’s kind of beautiful, yet bleak; filled with true smart houses and self-driving cars. This setting makes for some truly stunning shots inside and out. However, not all of the city is this futuristic. As the movie progresses we see this unique blend of shiny new and dilapidated old.
This sums up Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) in a nutshell, in this shiny new feature but still living with the old. He fixes old cars and doesn’t like this new tech that is forced upon him. During the beginning of the movie, he is involved in a crash that paralyses him and kills his girlfriend. Quickly given a secret operation by a technological genius/social recluse, he’s given the ability to move again by an illegal and unlicensed technology. This then leads him on a mission to bring justice to those who have wronged him.
He is quite literally lead on the mission. He’s helped on this journey by STEM (voiced by Simon Maiden) who is the mysterious voice of the implant allowing him to walk. The circumstances around their relationship are mysterious, which also makes for a great watch; nothing is really stopping STEM from taking over completely. The two have a great dynamic while trying to solve the mystery behind who killed his girlfriend. I kept thinking this is kind of like Knight Rider if Hasselhoff was simultaneously the car and human.
Logan Marshall-Green is known for his smaller roles in films like Spider-Man: Homecoming. He makes Trace an interesting character to watch as the movie progresses. Marshall-Green has “action star” written all over him, with the toughness that really brings the character together and makes him believable in a situation that really tests him and what he is willing to do for his revenge.
The premise could easily be adapted for TV on Amazon Prime or Netflix. You could even get Black Mirror vibes from it. It would slot right into the anthology series with no problem whatsoever due to its anti-tech message. However, in one of the few downsides, it never fully commits to it at times and tries its best to show the dangers that could occur, but ends up missing the mark throughout.
But, the idea that, in a series, each episode he is closer to tracking down the people that have wronged him, mixed in with ultra-violence, it already sounds a lot like the Marvel/Netflix collaborations. Upgrade made me glad it wasn’t. It is clear and well-paced. Nothing feels out of place and overlong through the 100-minute runtime, which is the exact amount of time you need to tell a simple story like this. Stretching it over 13 episodes would be unnecessary, even though it would be easy to do.
At its core is an action movie. This, mixed in with its setting and ultra-violence, makes for something special from director Leigh Whannell, known best for writing the Saw and Insidious movies. This is his second outing as a director having made his debut behind the camera with Insidious: Chapter 3. So Upgrade is a departure from what he is used to: it’s not a straight horror like the rest of his filmography, it’s obviously action with some (body) horror elements and this shift is done well.
The action set pieces put against the ultra-violence works insanely well. The excellent camera movements add to the Android-ish, robotic feel to the movements of Trace and the stunning cinematography. It is elevated to something that is better than any similar counterparts, including brilliant films like John Wick (and its similar revenge narrative and well-choreographed action sequences) or RoboCop, another upgraded individual in a movie filled with ultra-violence. The film also has a striking resemblance in key story points with the upcoming Venom movie. However, based on the trailers alone, it is likely to outshine that as well.
Upgrade is full of inventive and well-choreographed action sequences, an interesting character to watch as the movie plays out and really stands out and tries to set itself apart from other similar movies. It looks like when it comes to the year-end, it could be one of the best original action films of the year.
Check out the trailer for Upgrade below and let us know your thoughts in the comments section.