Upgrade pays homage to a mixture of 80’s sci-fi and action films as well as giving itself its own heart and soul, which in a way, leaves it a mixed bag of some greatly executed ideas and some equally poor ones.
Set in what seems to be the not too distant future, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) and his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) are involved in an automobile accident after their self-driving car malfunctions, leaving them stranded amongst a gang of criminals who kill Asha but leave Grey barely alive. Awaking in hospital to find himself a quadriplegic, he is visited by work colleague Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), who offers Grey a second chance at life through a stem implant operation that would see him walk again, and as we soon learn, do things that a normal person cannot.
With the police unable to identify a single gang member, Grey realises that the implant can actually speak to him and upon his command, take over his body, giving him the intelligence and strength to become superhuman. Herein lies the film’s greatest strengths in both the action set pieces and Marshall-Green’s performance.
When his implant (conveniently called STEM) switches to fight mode, Grey is merely a puppet while STEM pulls all the strings. A comically violent first encounter with one of the gang members sets the premise up nicely, giving the audience a taste of what Grey is capable of doing next.
Writer and director Leigh Whannell, who is best known for the SAW (2004-) franchise does an excellent job with the action sequences and clearly has fun with some inventively dazzling camera work. After proving he has the directing chops with the surprisingly decent Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015) and paying homage to such works as Robocop (1987) and even David Cronenberg’s body-horror films such as Scanners (1981) and Videodrome (1983), it’s almost safe to say that he may have a cult classic on his hands here. Even the 80’s synth soundtrack fits in perfectly as we follow Grey from one battle to the next.
The flaws, however, which include a very patchy screenplay and some weak supporting performances, unfortunately, distract from the highlights of the movie, but any film that has a bad guy loading bullets into his bicep to fire a gun that’s implanted into his arm begs not to be taken too seriously.
Whilst Upgrade isn’t Shakespeare (and doesn’t try to be), it knows exactly what kind of film it wants to be, even with its flaws sticking out a mile. The over-the-top violence will appease action and horror fans alike, doing so with a smile on its face and without being too offensive. It won’t upgrade your brain, but it’ll certainly upgrade your adrenaline.
When Gray is entering the apartment block to find “Jamie”, he pauses at some apartment buzzers. One of them says “J. Wan” – James Wan has been Leigh Whannel’s main collaborator since the first Saw film.