If you would like to read an earlier review of Upgrade by Critics Without Credentials, click here.
Synopsis: After his wife is killed during a brutal mugging that also leaves him paralyzed, Grey Trace is approached by a billionaire inventor with an experimental cure that will “upgrade” his body. The cure–an Artificial Intelligence implant called STEM–gives Grey physical abilities beyond anything experienced, and the ability to relentlessly claim vengeance against those who murdered his wife and left him for dead. (OTL Releasing)
Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Simon Maiden, and Betty Gabriel
Writer: Leigh Whannell
Director: Leigh Whannell
Rating: 18A (Canada)/R (United States)
Running Time: 95mins
This film made quite the impression upon its theatrical release in the United States at the beginning of June but for whatever reason, us Canadians now get to see what all the fuss is about. It’s a shame that it appears to be near the end of its one week theatrical run here in Canada after almost no promotion whatsoever as it is a film that should be seen in a theater full of people.
While the film’s premise may be simple, it’s what the story does with it that makes this so noteworthy. In the near future, where technology has dominated everyday life, a simple man with a disdain for all technology named Grey Trace (Marshall-Green) ironically must depend on it once a freak mugging resulted in the death of his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) and left him paralyzed. More specifically, Trace was treated with an implant called STEM which controlled his body using a freakishly calm artificial intelligence (Maiden). Anyone who has seen any of the trailers pretty much have an idea of where it all goes but with the help of STEM, Trace disposes of the bad guys in very inventive and gloriously violent ways that are all deserving deserving of an 18A/R rating.
Trace was determined to get revenge for what happened to him and his wife but his physical condition made this next to impossible. He grew restless with the police and Detective Cortez (Betty Gabriel) who were nowhere in their investigation. STEM could not have come at a better time as he was faced with the lowest of lows. Trace trying to get revenge for his wife’s murder was compelling to watch as was his evolution over the course of the film. There was definitely an adjustment period for multiple reasons, one being a predisposition to be reticent towards technology and the other simply being the fact of having living technology inside of him. As Trace and STEM came to terms with both, their banter brought along several truly hilarious moments.
Instead of being just a violent genre film, the story also has a surprising amount of depth to justify its arguably gratuitous nature. The mystery behind what happened to Trace and his wife became so much more over time, featuring plenty of twists and turns along the way. Though this mystery did get off track near the middle, it eventually got back on track. On the other side, the connection between Trace and his wife was his driving force but it could have been developed better as their time together was short and so was his grieving period. Trace’s inability to accept the result of his actions stalled the story for the most part, preventing the film from going even further with those gloriously violent action scenes. The scenes we did get, however, were stylishly shot and exciting to watch, utilizing all of Trace’s new abilities. In addition to those scenes, the cinematography as a whole was impressive considering the film’s lower budget.
The best part of the film was Marshall-Green’s performance as Trace. His sheer likability and his everyman relatability made him fun to watch. He showed great emotional range as a man who was constantly fighting with himself. He even changed his body language to reflect the fact that his body was being controlled by a machine. He and Maiden as STEM were fantastic together and it would’ve been nice to see more of them together. Additionally, Maiden’s calming presence helped to nicely balance out all the chaos, almost making you forget that STEM was responsible for said chaos. Gabriel shined as Cortez though her limited screen time was disappointing.
Overall, this was a fun sci-fi action film that took its simple premise in a fresh direction as a commentary on our overdependence on technology thanks to a great script and direction as well as an incredible lead performance by Logan Marshall-Green. It’s brutal nature will cause plenty of jaw-dropping moments which won’t be for everyone but should be commended for its originality and for world it was able to create with its lower budget.