Courtesy: Blumhouse

Film

'Upgrade' Is a Brutal Break From Blockbuster Overload

Upgrade, efficiently and relentlessly written and directed by Aussie moviemaker Leigh Whannell (a Saw and Insidious franchise screenwriter), wears its B-movie cred like a badge of honor. A sort of souped-up ‘70s grindhouse action-vengeance thriller with a heavy helping of Terminator and RoboCop, this flick is bloody, derivative, dopey, inventive and, if you’re in the right mood, a trip.

Set in the near-future of self-driving vehicles, smart homes and printout delivery pizzas, the movie stars an excellent, never-better Logan Marshall-Green (looking, as ever, like Tom Hardy lite) as a gritty, brooding, working-class muscle car mechanic and technophobe. His name is Grey Trace (seriously), and he frets that his loving wife (Melanie Vallejo) is messing around with some dangerously scary stuff in her big-time promotion at a shadowy, mega-menacing AI firm. After a plot development one ought to be able to spot coming from several miles away, when the couple’s self-driving car gets mysteriously hacked and goes careening off a highway, there’s a bizarre robbery that leaves his wife shot in cold blood, and leaves Grey a quadriplegic.

That’s when our shattered and paralyzed hero gets offered a tempting bargain by a young, reclusive tech-brainiac villain, the boss of a robotics company, who is played by Harrison Gilbertson and named Eron Vessel (again: seriously). Grey will be able to do the only thing he wants to do aside from kill himself—avenge his wife’s killers—if he only agrees to become the first human guinea pig for a super-advanced brain implant called STEM that allows a supercomputer to control and reanimate his broken body. He agrees and suddenly becomes a gravity-defying, robotic martial arts superhero, a kind of Bruce Lee meets Jason Bourne meets John Wick.
Upgrade is a rowdy, stupid, popcorn-and-soda-scarfing blast.
Yeah, sure, he fights and moves like the wind, but what about his mind? You guessed it: The talkatively Alexa-ish, Siri-gone-psycho STEM controls that, too. Here’s where the sly, deadpan movie’s ludicrous, mega-violent, bone-grinding fun really kicks in, as the charismatic Marshall-Green’s character descends into the gritty underworld to find the who and why of his wife’s demise. The actor superbly morphs his face, body and soul into a sometimes bewildered, sometimes exhilarated chop-socky killing machine as he chooses to let STEM take the wheel of his brain and motor functions and mess up bad guys in all kinds of weirdly funny, violent ways.

As Upgrade progresses, a few philosophical ideas get tossed around—who is really in control in the love/hate dynamic, Grey or STEM?—but Whannell doesn't seem to have anything new to say beyond sounding the familiar warning: Artificial intelligence will kill us all. On a tight budget, Whannell creates some of the nervier, most visually distinctive and enjoyable action scenes imaginable, and he’s aided and abetted throughout the movie by Felicity Abbott’s shrewd and knowing production design, and Stefan Duscio‘s pleasingly saturated color palette.

Marshall-Green’s performance is the true standout, but there’s also fun to be had from the levels Betty Gabriel (Get Out) brings to a standard role as a detective investigating who set out to kill Grey and his wife. As a standalone summer movie experience, Upgrade is a rowdy, stupid, popcorn-and-soda-scarfing blast. As a launching pad for Marshall-Green and as a break from summer blockbuster fatigue, it’s a lifesaver.

Upgrade

Pros
Logan Marshall-Green has never been better than he is in this brutal thrill ride
Cons
This movie may be about a commandeered brain, but it's not exactly cerebral
Rating: 3 out of 4 bunnies

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