Directed by: Leigh Whannell
Premise: Set in the near future, a mechanic and his wife are assaulted by a crew of violent criminals. He is paralyzed by the attack until a new artificial intelligence technology restores his mobility and gives him advanced powers. He seeks revenge on the criminals.
What Works: From its premise, Upgrade sounds a lot like movies we’ve seen before such as Death Wish and Robocop and even superhero films such as Captain America. And indeed Upgrade has elements of those kinds of genre films throughout it but the way in which those elements are envisioned, assembled, and executed gives Upgrade a fresh approach to the material. It is a sci-fi movie but the look of the story world is just advanced enough to be plausible and the technology is presented in a way that suits the film’s themes of independence. Upgrade is led by Grey, a mechanic played by Logan Marshall-Green. Grey does everything with his hands even while the world around him is increasingly automated including self-driving cars and home management software. After an apparently random act of violence, Grey is paralyzed but an experimental implant restores his ability to walk while also giving him increased speed, agility, and strength. The implant also possesses artificial intelligence that can talk to Grey. Their interactions result in a lot of comedy and one of the unexpected elements of Upgrade is how funny it is. Logan Marshall-Green’s performance is quite extraordinary. Throughout much of the movie he’s interacting with a voice in his head and the action scenes call for some unusual physical acting. When he’s in fight mode, Grey surrenders his bodily autonomy to the implant’s AI and so his limbs engage in impressive fight moves while the character is actually a helpless bystander to his own body. It’s a wacky scenario and Marshall-Green plays it up. This movie is inherently absurd but the filmmakers embrace the absurdity in a way that makes the material fresh. The action scenes of Upgrade are impressive. The filmmakers move the camera in interesting ways that give the fights and chases a violent kineticism. The sympathetic character and the cinematic innovations make Upgrade a fresh and highly entertaining film.
What Doesn’t: The conclusion of Upgrade resolves everything a little too quickly. In general, the denouement ought to allow the audience enough time and space to process what we’ve seen and transition out of the story. Sometimes that’s subverted for effect. Upgrade springs an unexpected reversal in the ending and it’s very effective but that reversal comes at the last minute. The abrupt conclusion cuts short a subplot involving a police detective played by Betty Gabriel. On the whole this subplot could be better. The detective tends to enter and exit the story at the convenience of the plot. It’s the one familiar genre element that the filmmakers don’t find a way of innovating upon.
DVD extras: None.
Bottom Line: Upgrade is an entertaining sci-fi action picture with humor and a high energy filmmaking style. It’s a very good example of filmmakers adapting familiar genre elements in a way that makes those elements feel fresh.
Episode: #731 (December 30, 2018)