Upgrade: Film Review
Cast: Logan Marshall-Green, Melanie Vallejo, Betty Green
Director: Leigh Whannell
The fact that Upgrade is so woefully unoriginal in its narrative is almost inexorably and perversely beside the point.
It robs cliches and genre tropes from every which way, stealing from Robocop, via Cronenbergian body horror and even riffs on late 80s buddy cop /tech shows like Automan and Knight Rider.
Yet it does it with such glee and b-movie abandon that it's almost compulsive and adrenaline fuelled in that way Blumhouse productions churn out low budget films and makes almost diamonds from cinematic coal.
In a world supposedly just five minutes from now, where autonomous cars roam the roads and tech is close to taking over, the Tom Hardy-cum Jamie Dornan Marshall-Green is Grey Trace, a veritable Luddite who prefers to listen to vinyl, while out in his garage, repairing his old Pontiac Firebird. His wife, Asha (Winners and Losers Melanie Vallejo) is a little less stubborn in her tech approach, working for a computer company and embracing the future.
However, their world is changed when their autonomous car goes nuts, leads them to the wrong part of town, and leaves Asha dead and Grey a quadriplegic after a mugging gone wrong. Approached by a tech genius and offered the chance to take part in a risky surgery to input a computer chip into his spine, Grey's triggered by the thought of avenging his dead wife.
So with the STEM system inside, he begins his quest... despite every moral fibre being conflicted within.
Upgrade is the kind of B-movie schlock that plays predictably to its low level budget, but brings some inventiveness to the visual table.
In a cast where acting is sometimes secondary to the screen (with the exception of Marshall-Green and Vallejo), the film's scuzzy sheen is sometimes marred by its less-than-hitting-the-roof ambitions. But there is no denying the film's look and feel is like a dirty Blade Runner with 80s revenge movie intentions. Drones hover in the sky in this day-after-tomorrow world, and Saw scribe Whannell deserves some praise for his execution, old school or otherwise.
In among some nifty fight sequences that don't skimp on the gore or the style (thanks to Whannell's camera following Marshall-Green at his level), the film's plot and various holes and issues are easily skated across. It gives Upgrade the feeling of something pertaining to be a little more sophisticated than it actually achieves (an overall feeling is one of mistrust at where technology is going, the conflict between old school and new world mentioned but never fully narratively leaned on).
But there's no denying for a night out, and for a sci-fi B-movie the likes of which is so rarely seen these days, Upgrade is a serious contender for guilty pleasure movie of the year - it knows what it wants to do, strives to build on its high concept premise and isn't afraid to fail - and is more than happy to have you along for the adrenaline-fuelled revenge ride.