A common action movie trope used to propel the protagonist into action is for a loved one to be killed in some fashion that leaves our hero at their lowest point, wanting nothing more than to exact vengeance upon those who caused them this pain. But what happens when you have all that anger bottled up inside, yet the attack that took your loved one also left you a quadriplegic?
In Upgrade, that’s the scenario our hero, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green,) finds himself in. That is, until he’s offered a chance to take part in an experimental surgery that would see a computer chip called Stem being attached to Trace’s spinal column where it was severed and acting as the connection between his brain and body which would allow him a second chance at life. With no other options, and the police having no luck tracking down those involved in the murder of his girlfriend, Trace agrees to be the Guinee pig for this off the books surgery.
The results are more than anyone could’ve expected, with Trace regaining use of his arms and legs just hours after the surgery, with no need for any sort of therapy. There’s also something else that wasn’t expected by anyone: Stem has a conscience. Yes, Stem is self-aware and can talk to Trace without anyone else hearing him. Also, with Trace’s permission, Stem is able to take control of his body to accomplish tasks that otherwise wouldn’t be humanly possible. And with this newfound friend and exemplary skills, Trace can now take it upon himself to start digging into who killed his girlfriend and why.
While all this sounds like a new song and dance just to get to the same old revenge story, it’s not. Writer/Director Leigh Whannell goes the route of the horror classic Saw (which he co-wrote,) by taking a small budget and using it to make a movie that’s better than many in the genre that have ten times as much to work with. Upgrade delivers a gritty, visceral tale mixed with enough sci-fi smarts to propel it to another level. Whannell wonderfully balances loads of over-the-top, fist pumping action sequences, while also making sure the story takes itself seriously enough to make the viewer feel like this dystopian future could be real. At its core Upgrade is a hardcore action movie that doesn’t let up and will satisfy any action junkie out there; but Whannell also does a great job of making Trace a real guy that audiences can relate with.
While he’s able to take things up a notch or ten thanks to Stem helping him out from the inside, Trace isn’t just a natural killer. He’s not bloodthirsty, and certain moments throughout take a toll on him emotionally and physically. Jumping between Stem-assisted assassin and regular, mourning boyfriend isn’t an easy thing to do, but Marshall-Green handles it superbly. He’s just an entertaining actor to watch go through these changes, and he really puts a lot of emotion into the part to make sure that Trace is someone audiences can relate to.
Whannell also takes an interesting route by adding Detective Cortez (Betty Gabriel) into the mix, though it’s also one of the more cliché aspects of the film that’s sometimes frustrating. Three months after the attack that left him paralyzed and his girlfriend dead, Trace went to visit Cortez at the precinct to check on the progress of her case. She explains that they have a few possible leads, but really, there isn’t much to work with so they’ve kind of hit a brick wall. But as soon as Trace takes out one bad guy, Cortez instantly suspects him – even though as far as she knows he’s still a quadriplegic – and works to figure out how he’s involved.
Now, while I feel that the pro of Cortez’s presence forcing Trace to balance tracking down these killers while still pretending he’s a quadriplegic outweighs the cliché con of her spending more time trying to catch Trace in a lie than she seemingly spent trying to figure out who the actual bad guys are, the latter of the two is still frustrating to endure at times. But that doesn’t really diminish the movie, as Upgrade really is just a non-stop bloody joyride that I think is best described as an adrenaline shot of pure awesomeness that shouldn’t be missed.
The Blu-ray transfer of the film looks fantastic, with a lot of the movie taking place in darker locations, the picture never looks muddy or distracting in any way. Everything is clean and crisp, and while blood and gore can sometimes become silly looking in this format, it keeps the grit needed to make the viewer cringe instead of rolling their eyes. The audio is also top notch, with dialogue coming through clearly, and working in harmony with the score and sound effects.
There are zero special features on the disc, which is disappointing. While I do understand not every film has the time or ability to make some, even a video diary of life on set and the making of certain aspects would’ve been great to see. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
Universal Pictures Presents Upgrade. Written and Directed By: Leigh Whannell. Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Steve Danielsen, Harrison Gilbertson, Betty Gabriel. Running time: 100 Minutes. Rating: R. Released on Blu-ray: Aug. 28, 2018.
Tags: Leigh Whannell, Logan Marshall-Green, Upgrade