‘Upgrade’ is a thrilling, cyberpunk story, opening a larger tech discussion

If you haven’t heard of Blumhouse Productions, you might want to catch up with them now. While the private production company has been producing low-budget horror films since 2009 with Paranormal Activity. In the last few years, the company has gained more mainstream attention with films such as The Purge, Insidious,  Split, and the Oscar-nominated Get Out.

Among the massive franchises adding another movie to their list such as Marvel’s Infinity War and Deadpool 2 and more major additions such as Incredibles 2 and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom to come, there are a few movies that fly under the radar with little fanfare leading up to their release that end up becoming sleeper hits, relying on word of mouth between audience members to generate favor. Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade is worthy of being counted in that group for this summer.

This review will be spoiler-free.

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In the near future, nearly everyone and everything is augmented by computers. Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) is a stay-at-home mechanic who prefers to be hands on, refusing to rely on technology. His wife works for a tech company, fully embracing the comforts of having a computer in control. The couple are brutally mugged by a group of rogue assailants. Unfortunately, the attackers kill Grey’s wife, and leave him paralyzed.

Depressed and down on his luck, Grey is given a chance when an inventor approaches him with another option: an artificial intelligence implant called STEM, and he believes that it can give Grey the ability to walk again. When this procedure proves successful, Grey has a new lease on life, but with one small twist: STEM has a voice, and it can control Grey’s body movements. Together, this tandem looks to take revenge on those who killed Grey’s wife.

Upgrade is a mash up of many movies that we’ve seen before: man loses the love of life and taken to the edge of life. He becomes a vigilante in order to gain a chance at revenge. From movies like Death Wish (original and remake), The Six Million Dollar Man, The Fugitive, and Robocop, we’ve seen this story many times. That’s not to say that this movie is necessarily bad; I had a decent time watching this. The movie doesn’t make more of itself than for what it is; what you see is what you get. The action sequences are amazing and well shot and, similar to other Blumhouse films, there are those small moments of explicit gore to add a little shock value to the audience. This might come from director’s Leigh Whannell’s previous work on Saw movies.

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Lead actor Logan Marshall-Green (or is that really Tom Hardy’s twin? Or Tom Hardy himself? You can see the resemblance, right?) offers an unflawed physical performance. His work has been the finest I’ve seen in a while, doing so much with his body and the environment around him with each fight scene. After the accident leaves him paralyzed and he has the procedure that bonds Grey and STEM, Marshall-Green does a great job with his robotic movements and fighting like a robotic ninja. What’s funny is that when STEM and Marshall-Green’s character disagree, he switches between a ninja badass to a quadriplegic in some scenes. It’s actually pretty amazing to watch. If you think Grey is having fun, you can guess again. He’s horrified at what his body is doing and capable of doing. If you’ve seen a movie about artificial intelligence on any level, you know how this could go for the vigilante character.

What is primary about this B-Movie thriller is the underlying technology discussion and our dependence on it. This movie takes a cynical, skeptical point of view on the connection between humanity and technology, especially from the main character. He’s firmly against using technology for every part of his life. His wife is the complete opposite along with other characters. These characters become disposable in service of this discussion, used as cannon fodder or exposition tools while Leigh Whannell builds his world and inject life into the tired themes that Upgrade built its foundation on.

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This movie is slightly predictable through two thirds of the movie, but it makes a huge right turn near the third act and eventual ending. I wasn’t expecting the movie to end like that at all, which was a pleasant surprise. It gives that fresh feeling that I was really looking for and paid off for the movie. While you can go see one of the more established blockbusters that are currently packing seats, I’d recommend taking a chance with this revenge flick.

Thanks for reading, everyone! Think you’ll check out this movie? Definitely leave a comment! Also check out my Facebook page for this blog  and show some love! Until next time!

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