Upgrade is an underrated gem of a film.
I’m off to check out the latest incarnation of the Invisible Man. I wasn’t interested. Elisabeth Moss is always reliable. The trailer looked cheesy, “He’s not dead, he’s somehow made himself invisible” had me rolling my eyes. I’d give it a miss.
Then I found out it was from the guy who made Upgrade and all of a sudden I was interested.
Leigh Whannell, the writer and director of Upgrade and The Invisible Man (2020), has been in the film industry for years. He co-wrote and starred in Saw, helping create a horror juggernaut. Whannell was also involved in the Insidious films. In short, he knows how to put together a crowd-pleaser. The Saw and Insidious films are not to my taste, but I appreciate they’re well-made films.
Upgrade came out a few years ago. Similar to The Invisible Man, the trailer did nothing for me. It looked like a low-rent sci-fi riff of Taken. It also had hands down one of the worst posters. Told you nothing and wasn’t appealing in the slightest.
Upgrade came out in cinemas, no one went to see it and vanished.
Alex, my best friend, caught it on a plane coming home from holiday and recommended it. Still not convinced I thought I’d give it a go.
Holy shit, I was never so happy to be so wrong.
Upgrade is an underrated gem.
Let me give you a brief outline before telling you the appeal.
In the future, our hero Grey Trace restores classic cars for affluent clients. He brings his wife along because he’ll need a ride back.
On the way back, the vehicle is hijacked. His wife, assassinated and he is left paralysed from the neck down. A previous client approaches Grey offers to install a chip that will help him walk again. The chip works and then speaks to him, offering to help him track down his wife’s killers and get revenge.
Usually, I don’t care about spoiling things, but that’s all I’m going to say about the particulars of Upgrade’s plot.
What’s the appeal of Upgrade?
First of all, it has some of the most economical storytelling I’ve seen. There’s no messing about. In revenge films, the first twenty minutes establishes how everyone is in love.
Not here, ten minutes and boom we’re into the plot.
The style ties into the story. There’s a lot of use of stabilisation. Stabilisation is this; imagine the Bourne films, you know the shaky cam? Camera’s wobbling all over the shop, and you can’t tell what’s going on? Stabilisation is when you pick a person in the shot. Then you use some fancy technology to make them appear still, but it’s the background that moves. If you want to see a big-budget version of this check out the forest chase from Sherlock Holmes 2: A Game of Shadows.
Now Sherlock uses stabilisation because it looks cool. Upgrade uses this because it’s relevant to the story. This chip is helping him walk. It’s a fantastic way to express the feeling. There are other neat little touches like that throughout the film. I’ve spent too long on this, so let’s move on.
Everything that happens is foreshadowed excellently. Now, foreshadowing doesn’t make something good, but it’s an icing on the cake. It subconsciously prepares the audience about what is coming next.
You may not notice it, but your brain does.
A quick example: When Grey is getting surgery, it goes a bit graphic. On some level then your mind is getting ready for when the blood spurts.
Making your hero likeable is a high wire act. One misstep and they come across as an asshole, and your audience starts looking at their phones. Upgrade keeps you on Grey’s side the whole time.
In particular, there is a fantastic scene early on. They use it in the trailer, I don’t know how much of a spoiler this is, you’re warned. Here’s the scene in question.
Anyway, Grey has broken into one of his wife’s killers house. The killer comes home, the chip tells him to attack, he freezes, the killer sees him and kicks his ass. The chip then asks can he have control of the body, Grey consents. What then follows is a great action scene as Grey’s body turns the tables on the villain. Grey is performing all these balletic fight moves with a look of shock on his face. It’s such a well-done sequence. The whole time we’re with Grey as he apologises to the murderer and begs him to stop fighting. Grey is winning, but he’s not responsible for his actions.
Logan Marshall-Green goes above and beyond with the performance as Grey. He runs the full gamut of emotion when he has the chip in his movements to become more robotic graceful. It’s a shame he’s compared to Tom Hardy because he’s doing his own thing and does it beautifully.
It’s 1 hour 35 minutes. Boom, what more can you ask for?
I’m not going to say too much here. All I’ll say is this, the conclusion does several things. You think you know where it’s going all I can say is, you don’t.
Briefly, there are a few negatives. For one, the rehabilitation scene drags on a bit. It could have been compressed down to one sequence. There’s a title card of “Three months later”. The audience doesn’t need that, especially since the rest of the film is so light on exposition.
Without spoiling it, Grey is given no choice at a critical moment. It would have been better if he was.
It’s generic-looking in places. There’s a lot of abandoned factories. I know the budget was low for this, but sometimes it was like I was watching a high-end short film. If that makes sense.
If you like an action film with brains, then you will like this. If you’re a fan of Robocop then definitely check this out. Identity is a theme as well as revenge. Also, if you liked the Tom Hardy Venom, you might like this. Upgrade is a leaner version, with a guy talking to himself while kicking ass.
You can buy Upgrade on all the usual services.
I’m looking forward to The Invisible Man.
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