PLOT: Grey Trace is a man living in a modern world, still holding on to a less complicated time. When he and his wife are brutally attacked, he is paralyzed from the neck down – a hostage to modern medical technology. However, when he is given a second chance to walk again, he must decide whether he is willing to try a secret and dangerous surgery, one that may give him the chance to hunt down the men responsible for his unfortunate situation.
REVIEW: Leigh Whannell understands genre. His collaborations with James Wan have found a massive fan base thanks to movies like INSIDIOUS and SAW, but it’s very exciting to see him take on something new. With UPGRADE, he explores a revenge plot with heavy science fiction elements, creating an intense and thoroughly entertaining hour and a half at the theatre. It is certainly brutal, yet Whannell smartly gives the script a ton of humor, and perhaps a little bit of heartbreak. If you are a fan of movies like ROBOCOP, MANIAC COP and other sci-fi/revenge type flicks from the Eighties and Nineties, you are going to love every second of this flick. In fact, when it comes to vengeance, this may be one of the best we’ve seen in a very long time.
Logan Marshall-Green is Grey Trace, a working man who is good with his hands, yet terrible with modern conveniences. Considering that tech has taken over most aspects of every day life, he finds comfort in fixing cars, and spending time with his loving wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo). Yet that comfort is soon taken away when the two are attacked by a group of creeps intent on doing serious damage to the couple. He survives, but he is paralyzed and helpless. Thankfully, he is given a second chance courtesy of a young, genius inventor named Eron (Harrison Gilbertson). He offers Grey the opportunity to try a new implant that will make him walk again, and more importantly, give him incredible powers. Once he agrees, he discovers that he may not have control over his own actions while on his quest to pay back the men that attacked him.
With the recent trend for nostalgia in cinema it is nice to see a filmmaker use the earlier influences in a fresh way. Whannell has created one of the most thrilling low budget action features in recent years. Not only do we get a real sense of who Grey is, but the filmmaker manages to create a few cool characters in addition to his leading man. Most notable is Betty Gabriel who portrays a sympathetic detective who is trying to find the men who went after Grey and Asha. The actress adds another level to her performance, and gives UPGRADE a little more heart. And then there is STEM, the voice that speaks to Grey from the implant, just think Alexa with a nasty streak.
Speaking of performances, Logan Marshall-Green gives one of the best of the year. We see Grey go from a loving husband to a man struggling with an uncontrollable power, and he handles every single level brilliantly. It also helps that Grey is such a terrific character. The actor effortlessly tackles the witty dialogue, the emotional toil and the smartly realized fight choreography, all while giving us a hero worth rooting for. This is a role that could have easily been overly serious or even the opposite, a smart aleck who can’t seem to die. Either way, Logan gives us a rich and compelling hero, one that is a joy to watch and one I’d personally like to see more of.
Another treat here is the build up to the actual revenge with a couple of twists. Whannell has a clever take on the man becoming machine formula. Once Grey is infused with STEM, the battle of wills is especially exciting. Instead of your typical bloody fight sequences, there is a sense of energy and style as Grey allows STEM to take over – although never fear, there is a good amount of gruesomeness involved. Every single move Grey makes is as much of a surprise to him as it is to his opponents. It may sound a bit goofy, but frankly it works far better than you’d imagine.
Whannell and cinematographer Stefan Duscio manage to create a sci-fi world that is a bit more grounded and realistic which is impressively realized with the budget. The self driving cars look quite familiar in our own modern world, and the addition of dive bars, muscle cars and filthy streets give this futuristic tale a gritty realism. In so many ways this shares a closeness with the classic revenge, exploitation pictures of the past, yet it does so in a very satisfying way.
UPGRADE is smart, brutal, hilarious and well worth admission. Leigh Whannell once again successfully morphs his own influences into something that is uniquely his. Of course if wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without the impressive talents of Logan Marshall-Green. The actor is the perfect choice for Grey in every way. This may have the feel of one of those cult classic sci-fi action flicks decades back, yet it does so without sacrificing quality. This is the kind of revenge thriller that is worth seeking out. If you need a break from the huge budget summer blockbusters, you won’t be disappointed. This is one UPGRADE well worth making.