Upgrade (***) Brings energy to an interesting premise

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Upgrade – 2018

Written and Directed by Leigh Whannell
Starring  Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson, Benedict Hardie, Melanie Vallejo, Simon Maiden (voice)
Upgrade is the kind of film we used to see more of in decades past. A world with its own rules, however different from reality, that presents a challenge to a protagonist. The protagonist goes through a trauma, recovers slightly, and then must move into a new state of being to overcome those who aggrieved him. It’s comparable to Robocop, but there are some distinct differences here.

Grey Trace (Marshall-Green) is a mechanic in an alternate future similar to our present. In this future, almost everything is controlled by computers and an internet framework. When he brings a classic Trans-Am to a customer to a genius customer (Gilbertson) with his wife, they are introduced to that genius’ new project, which is a computer chip.

On their way home, their automated car is run off the road and they are attacked. His wife (Vallejo) is killed and Grey is paralyzed. When almost all hope is lost, the genius offers him the chip as an augment to get him back on his feet.

Soon after he receives the implant, called Stem, he begins to notice more than he is promised. Stem starts to communicate with him, offering him a way to avenge his wife if he just allows the device to get more access.

Of course there wouldn’t be much of a film if Grey resisted his new powers much. The path to redemption is hindered by a police detective (Gabriel) who notices that Grey seems to be in a lot more places than someone who is crippled should be.

Even so, the mechanic’s path to redemption seems to be remarkably swift. The mystery unravels awkwardly in the third act, like they left a few scenes on the editing floor.

Still, Marshall-Green puts such an energy into it, the film works, for the most part. This is the best thing I have seen him perform since I realized he wasn’t Tom Hardy.

Gabriel is an interesting choice for a police detective. I think it may have worked if she’d had a partner to bounce some lines off of once in a while.

Whannell, who’s no stranger to writing gore in the Saw and Insidious series, gives the fights a frenetic energy and shocking stakes. His directing skill could use some polish, but then this film is as awkward as anything he’s written that wasn’t directed by erstwhile partner James Wan.

They could make a series from this character, but it would require more clever nemeses than they presented this time around. As cool as people who have literal guns for arms and have nano-tech breath, these guys seemed to be quite easily dispatched.

This film made me realize how likable Marshall-Green actually can be as an action hero. One hopes to see him extend the series at least to see him get something better.

(*** out of *****)

 

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