Leigh Whannell is a known horror screenwriter, having penned the Insidious films and the first three entries in the Saw franchise. His first directorial effort was Insidious: Chapter Three. (No offense to Leigh, but it is arguably the black sheep chapter of the series).
With Upgrade he has, dare I say, upgraded his ability for genre filmmaking. What remains in this gritty, futuristic action flick is Whannell’s penchant for high energy gore and viscera. What is added is a distinct style and some clever storytelling subversion.
Logan Marshall-Green plays Grey Trace, a man rendered a quadriplegic and widowed after a car accident turned robbery. A company called Vessel, however, has the technology that can fix his body.
It is called Stem, and, when inserted into the broken part of Grey’s spine, it can allow him to move again. And more…
Upgrade contains shades of familiar action touchstones like Death Wish and, more recently, John Wick. It is a revenge film with a twist. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t have to.
This is because the film effectively uses its science fiction elements to subvert some of the narrative conventions of that familiar storyline. The results are often humorous, if not sometimes awkwardly so.
The voice of Stem (Simon Maiden) interacts with Grey in ways that justify the superhuman abilities of the action hero archeytype, and the actions they execute together often yield hilariously morbid comedy.
The visual style is electrifying when it first rears its head. The pivoting camera moves with action in fun, dynamic ways. And the robotic choreography of the “upgraded” Grey is unpredictable as it unfolds, making for punctuated moments of gleeful audience reaction.
Not everything is cohesive. Whannell’s Saw roots show in the film’s twisty final act. The twists can be compelling, and in one case unexpected, but there is one too many of them. It gets a tad silly, which doesn’t mesh with the dark humor that is found elsewhere in the film.
As much as the tone struggles to mesh, the core of Upgrade is jam-packed with entertainment value. One-off jokes or scenes of poor acting are ultimately forgiven when another fight sequence pops up. For fans of highly stylized action violence, these sequences won’t disappoint.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)