What do you get when you combine “John Wick,” “Death Wish,” “Ex Machina” and “RoboCop?” This movie, apparently.
“Upgrade” stars Logan Marshall-Green as a man who is left crippled after a mugging, only to be given the chance to walk again thanks to an experimental chip implanted in his spine. He quickly discovers the chip has a mind of its own, and the two set out for vengeance. Leigh Whannell writes and directs as Betty Gabriel, Benedict Hardie, Richard Cawthorne and Harrison Gilbertson also star.
This was produced by Blumhouse, the people behind gems such as “Get Out,” “Happy Death Day” and “Whiplash” (not that all three of those are in the same league) and duds such as “The Gallows” and this April’s wonderfully awful “Truth or Dare” (it’s so trashy but oh-so-watchable). Although he doesn’t always produce quality films, Jason Blum has mastered the art of microbudget filmmaking, giving directors small budgets (usually around $5 million) but complete creative control over their projects. Whannell worked with Blum on the “Insidious” films, writing all four and making his directorial debut with the third, and went to him with the idea for “Upgrade.” Although he wrote it with a bigger budget in mind, the film turned out looking great despite being made for less than $10 million and although we’ve seen this plot a dozen times over it ends up being a very enjoyable ride.
Logan Marshall-Green is probably known best for “Prometheus” as well as people saying “wait, that’s not Tom Hardy?” (the two look pretty similar, at times to an eerie degree). Here he is playing a man who is stricken over losing his wife and becoming bound to a wheelchair, and has one subtle scene where he breaks down crying that actually worked well. The rest of the time he is punching guys in the face–well actually, the robot in his brain is making him do it–and it results in some comedic moments when he is as shocked and confused by his sudden master of fighting as his victims. There are a few scenes where he overacts or delivers lines that are coated in cheese but overall it’s a solid performance.
Simon Maiden voiced STEM, the voice of the chip implanted in Marshall-Green and much like Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO droid in “Rogue One” he provides some comedic relief thanks to dry, robotic delivery and bluntness, as well as a chilling moment or two.
The action here is pretty well shot and some of the kills are brutal to the point of disbelief, but my theater was absolutely digging it; this some of the most fun I’ve had as a member of an audience in quite some time. The end fight features a lot of quick cuts and edits which is normally a complaint and hindrance to a film only here I thought it worked because the scene was still shot wide enough to tell who was who, and when the conflict reached a head the sudden long takes felt like the same exhale the characters were experiencing.
There are a few tiny gripes, like the familiarity of the storyline and a few (very minor) pacing issues, but overall “Upgrade” is just a great time at the movies and even more commendable when you take into account its “small” budget. I implore you to seek this one out in a theater, not just because the filmmakers deserve it but because this is one of those movies that are meant to be seen on the big screen with an audience.
Critic’s Grade: B+
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