Motion pictures have been a popular form of entertainment since the late 18th century. Some people go to the theater on a regular basis while others go less frequently making a trip to the movies a special outing. However, everyone has the same goal: have fun and escape the monotony of life.
The definition of what “fun” is will vary from person to person, but for some a compelling story with multilayered characters are an absolute necessity. Much like a taster of fine wines needs the occasional shot of whiskey to cleanse their palate, even the most hardened cinephile needs the occasional silly movie to truly appreciate more refined films.
Upgrade seems to be the shot needed. Paralyzed Grey Trace has a computer chip embedded into his spine and learns that he seems to have become superpowered. The chip also seems to have enhanced Grey’s ability to make witty rejoinders during the heat of battle. Does Upgrade succeed or is it too silly for its own good?
There is great use of light and shadows throughout the movie. Director Leigh Whannell cleverly has dark technology heavy scenes lit only by monitors giving them a more mechanical feel while shots of Grey without his upgrade are well lit. It is ingenious and adds to the film’s atmosphere. Though the camera work is not groundbreaking, there are also some nice shots.
The film’s synth focused score is appropriate and adds to the futuristic setting of the film. Upgrade has many action scenes and the music does not really stand out at these times. However, during Grey’s operation, the music is outstanding. Initially, it is foreboding and almost inhuman before turning into something out of a futuristic Frankenstein remake. This is easily one of the movie’s highlights.
Logan Marshall-Green as Trace and Simon Maiden as Stem are great in their respective roles. Marshall-Green brings humor to his character as he plays what is essentially a bystander to acts he is physically committing. Marshall-Green is convincing as the initial shock turns to horror and reluctance. Maiden is unintentionally funny and calculating and avoids becoming cringey. It is unfortunate that the rest of the cast seem to be going through the motions with their performances.
Upgrade tells a great, if familiar, story. The trailers hinted at an over the top revenge tale that had plenty of action and quips but also looked to be silly and lacking in plot. There are some great fight scenes (fans of John Woo’s The Killer will appreciate the one between Grey and Fisk) and over the top violence, but Upgrade is more about telling a story than a joke. It is the well trodden tale of where man fits in with rapidly advancing technology, but it is done with great foreshadowing, has no meandering subplots, and delivers a satisfying conclusion.
Unfortunately, Upgrade is littered with tropes. The cast includes the awkward child genius, the emotionless hacker who says, “we have to fight them”, and a character who worries about how more technology will lead to more unemployment. While the story is well paced, it is also predictable. There are also some glaring plot holes. (I understand how Stem made it possible for Grey to walk again, but how did he become superhuman?)
Upgrade is less frivolous and a much more nuanced than would be expected. It never reinvents the wheel and focuses on telling a tight story. It is a very good movie, but stale acting and an over reliance on tropes prevent it from being an all time great.