Release Date: June 1st, 2018
Studio: Blumhouse Productions
Director: Leigh Whannell
Release Format: Theatrical
Running Time: 95 minutes
I love going to the movies, it’s a stress reliever for me, and I will be at the theater every weekend regardless if there’s some big name movie to see or I have to take a gamble on something else. That’s how I stumbled across Upgrade, produced by Blumhouse, a movie I had not heard a lot about- but a movie that I would soon find out deserves to stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the greats in science fiction cinema.
Upgrade is set in the seemingly not so distant future. Technology is infused into everything and everyone(arm shotguns anyone?). It’s clear from the very beginning of this film that the lead character, Grey, isn’t having it. He builds classic cars in his garage, and seems happy to leave the future to his wife.
It all seems pretty innocuous at first. Grey loves his wife, drinks beer, and doesn’t trust driverless cars. We are shown a happy marriage and all is right in this futuristic world. Things go wrong faster than you can say “spoiler alert”.
Leigh Whannell writes and directs here, and you may recognize his name as the mind behind the Saw series(the first ones that were actually good) as well as Insidious. The man knows how to build tension, and don’t be surprised to find out that this movie doesn’t shy away from gore. An incident happens early on in Upgrade, and Whannell makes sure you feel EVERY second of it- in a way that only the man behind Saw could.
In a marketplace arguably way oversaturated with movies that show a plethora of god-like superheroes battling for the future of the universe, it’s a great change of pace to see a lead character with more in common with the average movie-goer than the god of thunder. Upgrade‘s protagonist Grey, is a man that gets caught up with forces beyond his control. In the search for the people behind his misery, he gets embroiled in one life or death situation after the other. It’s in this way that we get to see genuine tension in an action movie, Grey isn’t a super soldier, he’s a regular guy being literally forced into these action sequences.
Grey is left physically and mentally shattered by the incident, his wife is killed and he is made a quadrapalegic. This sets up the hook of Upgrade. Grey is offered the chance to walk again, all he has to do is take part in a secret operation to install a superchip inside of his spinal cord.
Grey is contemplating suicide at this point. Instead of glossing over the struggles like other movies might, Upgrade pulls you into Grey’s new world, and you feel the heartbreaking weight of it all. Grey has nothing left to live for and we know this not because it’s written as some throwaway dialogue, but because we see it with our own eyes. So by the time Grey gets his offer for most of the life he had before, we almost don’t blame him for initially rejecting it.
Grey eventually takes the offer and has the superchip codenamed STEM implanted inside of him. Grey can instantly walk and is back to his life in no time- the end! Not exactly, we still have some movie left here and this is where the story kicks into high gear. Grey is done being trapped in his chair, now he wants that sweet cliche vengeance on the people who killed his wife. Lucky for him, STEM is here to help.
STEM can speak, and immediately sets Grey on the trail of the killers. Grey soon gets over his head, and STEM has to take over to get him out of trouble. The scenes where STEM takes over and Grey is nothing more than a head attached to a super ninja, are some of the most fun I have ever had watching action movies. The camera sticks to the fights, no death by a thousand cuts in this one. The superchip manipulates Greys body in ways he could never imagine, and the more brutal(and I do mean BRUTAL) the actions taken by it get- the larger the look of concern on the bystander hosting it.
Logan Marshall-Green plays the normal man trapped in a super soldier superbly. From the beginning of the film, through his struggle to live as an invalid, to his struggle to survive the danger he gets into in his quest to get revenge- Green is amazing. Grey’s motivations are always clear due to a strong script, and Grey’s feelings are always clear due to an equally strong actor.
Upgrade suffers from some minor plot holes that are a staple of science fiction movies that have twists and turns such as these. Just when you think you have the movie figured out, it changes things up at the last minute. You won’t notice the stumbles the story takes getting to it’s ending, but they are there.
Leigh Whannell’s latest is destined for the hall of fame. It’s an action-packed science fiction movie with an engaging lead, and way more emotion than one might expect. Although it seems to be flying under the radar at the moment, it surpasses the likes of Infinity War and Deadpool 2, and claims the top spot for 2018 so far.
Verdict: Upgrade is a triple threat: amazing action, superb acting, and strong direction. It all combines to form the best movie I’ve seen all year, and one worthy of rubbing shoulders with some of the greats of the science fiction genre.
- Engaging action highlighted by great camerawork
- Gore done right
- Well written science fiction that doesn't go where you think it will
- Logan Marshall-Green puts on a clinic for acting
- A couple minor plot holes
- Main henchman deserved more development
Decades of video games and comic books have molded me into the nerd with a heart of gold that I am today. I can go full fanboy one second, and then gleefully play devil’s advocate the next- life is just more fun that way.