I had the pleasure of attending the L.A. premiere of the latest sci-fi/horror/action movie Upgrade written and directed by Leigh Whannell. It was nice to be able to watch this film on the big screen with the cast and crew of the film as well as other eager fans who couldn’t wait to watch this unique storytelling combined with heavy exhilarating action. This film exceeded expectations and it wasn’t until after I left that I realized I needed this movie in my life more than I thought.
Mostly known for his writing Whannell has been involved in some of the genre changing film in the past decade. Whether its acting, writing, or directing, he has been a part of the horror genre with Saw and the Insidious Franchise as well as writing smaller titles like Dead Silence and horror comedy Cooties, which I think everyone should check out. Now on his second director/writer project after Insidious: Chapter 3 comes the techno/thriller Upgrade, a story set in a Dystopian future where technology is used to complete normal and mundane task but also serve as a solution in preventing or stopping crime in a timely matter. A man who has been paralyzed after a brutal mugging is given the opportunity to walk and take revenge on those who did this to him with the help of a new piece of technology that hasn’t been used on another human being. With his new-found ability to walk along with the help of an AI that enhances his body, he sets out to get justice for what has happened to him.
I know what you are thinking, what is unique about this film. It’s basically Robocop, The Crow, or any other revenge movie out there. Fair enough, doesn’t mean the format doesn’t work if you give it just a little twist. This is what stood out for me in this movie:
Our lead Grey Trace, is played by Logan Marshall-Green (The Invitation) who does a phenomenal job in being a relatable human being and also making it believable that he is stepping out of his comfort zone when it came to the fighting and action sequences and his understanding of technology since his character is kind of technophobe who enjoys working with his hands and not letting technology run his life. He also keeps things lighthearted and fun with his facial expressions and dialogue speaking out what anyone would be thinking if they were in his shoes. This is your average Joe who has been given a gift and we watch him get used to it and not succeeding right away with what has been gifted.
Betty Gabriel, known for her role in the movie Get Out, plays the detective on his case and slowly unraveling the idea that he is somehow involved in taking matters into his own hands. She has embraced and trust the technology that has helped her with her career while still very grounded in how life use to be. She is a joy to watch on-screen and comes off as a tough cop able to handle her own. She doesn’t have a partner working for her, she plays by her own rules and plays an integral part in representing the friend or foe of the movie depending on who you are rooting for.
Also, if you have seen the trailers for this film, you know that there is an unseen character in the film and that is the voice of the technology called STEM that is helping Grey walk. Voiced by Simon Maiden, STEM is definitely a fun character. AI characters are usually one tracked and has only one obligation or mission and will do what it takes to complete it even if what needs to be done doesn’t benefit others. Giving this robotic but human like quality to his voice and dialogue you don’t see him as a piece of technology but more as a guardian angel, maybe even a conscience, that voice in your head that guides you when you are trying to decide flight or fight. In some ways, you can even view this as a buddy comedy of sorts. Watching Grey and STEM interact was clearly the highlight of the movie.
Anyone who knows Whannell’s work is that there will be blood. THERE WILL BE BLOOD. He is not shy to use excessive force when it comes to gore and realistic wounds and bloodshed when it comes to the combat displayed in this movie. People get hurt and you are definitely in the front row seeing it all. You will yell out loud, you may even turn your head a bit in surprise. What Whannell did in this film though that was a good idea was not over saturate it throughout the movie. He didn’t overdue it. It was done with a nice balance that when you did see more than just a simple cut or limb being bent the wrong way it was a huge surprise and packed a punch just when needed. So for those who are not fan of gore. There is not much of it but you will not walk out of this movie without seeing someone’s insides. Just sayin’. It is done tastefully, if that is even possible. The fighting choreography was amazing as well. The stunts pulled in this film were very believable and also entertaining to see as our lead character had to act out these fight scenes as if he were possessed and had no control with what his body is doing. A middle ground between super human but not a GOD. He had to watch as his body did the work just like the audience and I liked that aspect.
The Story and Message
I like the director’s vision on how technology has influenced the world in his film. While people are used to the assistance of computers and technology he shows the flaws in having given full control of your daily life and task to the hands of electronics. There were multiple scenes shown that if mistreated or taken for granted, technology can ruin your life just as much as save it. You also see how technology and also detach you from the world you live in and give this easy solution to fix what you hate about your own life and living environment. A look into the world of technology how it affects those who can afford it versus those it cannot. Also watching a man struggle with always having to do things on his own put his trust in the very technology he doesn’t really trust or use to his advantage to begin with was a nice touch. Watching him slowly depend on the technology to do his bidding he forgot that he does have a mind of his own and must still rely on his instincts to get things done and not to lose himself in the process.
The film is very entertaining to watch, it has a very simplistic and closed story that didn’t involve the government, or a huge city that is influenced and altered by the story. It’s a small cast and the story takes place within a handful of chosen characters. I will say I was left with some questions in regards to how the movie ended and a little confused with some of the back story. There were scenes and hints that there might be more story to tell after this movie but I think that if a sequel to this is made, it would hinder what I think this movie got right in the first place and that it has a beginning, middle, and end. It is good to sometimes go see a movie that has a start and finish and not think about what is going to happen next and have to impatiently wait for an answer years down the road. Matched with some interesting cinematography and colors and tone used in the film, I got that futuristic sort of neon vibe that I somewhat vision the live-action adaptation of Death Note would be. The sort of cat and mouse sort of game, between the detective and Grey trying to accomplish outsmarting the other without being detected all while doing this incognito from the rest of the world. I do recommend this film to be seen and if you enjoy a good action flick with a little bit of blood you will enjoy Upgrade as well. This is another movie that raises the issue that technology is bad and will lead to our own destruction but this movie is fun, it has a little bit of silliness and comedy to it. In our phase of open universes and franchises, this was a nice break from having to really pay attention to every little bit of a movie just in case we got a sequel or something we had to look forward to in another installment. I think every few years you just need that one good movie that is good enough to stand on its own without having to be part of a bigger picture. Well done Leigh Whannell.
P.S.: I caught two Easter eggs in there regarding his “SAW” roots. Let me know in the comments if you caught them and if you saw more I would like to know what you noticed.
Upgrade releases June 1.
4 ½ out of 5
Thank you so much for reading this review. I hope you enjoyed it and would like to hear your thoughts on this film and why or why not you plan to see this movie. Thank you for sticking with me through another review and make sure to subscribe, comment, and pass my blog along to those that may enjoy these reviews.