Shooty score: 1/5 Kicky score: 3/5
Enjoy with: A fruity bottle of red wine like a Barbera D’Asti, which gives you vanilla, red berries and an alcoholic punch (14%, yo). You’ll need something sweetly satisfying to fill the monotonous gaps between the action.
“Upgrade” is the sort of film that brings a shotgun to a knife fight but forgot to load the shells.
Set in future-land, car mechanic Grey (Logan Marshall-Green), and his wife, Asha (Melanie Vallejo), are ambushed by a local gang who kills the spouse and leaves Grey disabled. After a hot minute mourning, a super genius client of Grey, Eron – who is the most exaggerated anime character you have ever seen on screen – inserts a super secret chip, STEM, into his spine that helps him walk again. STEM soon turns out to be pretty personal and gives Grey superhuman fighting skills, taking him on a revenge mission to find the gang who killed his wife.
So cheers to a fucking solid concept for a futuristic revenge caper. But refill that glass because it won’t take long for the film to misfire in all directions. I’m sorry, but watching these limp-armed henchmen fail to deliver any kind of blow is as hard to grasp as a flaccid dick… and just as disappointing.
For starters, you’re led to believe that the STEM implant can control Grey to outmanoeuvre any adversary. Flinging him across rooms with amusing reluctance, he slices and dices his way through the city with relative ease and occasional sadistic flourish. Most notable when STEM uses its host to perform an overzealous Glasgow smile on one of the guilty gang members. A solid eight out of ten on the gore scale.
Unfortunately, it’s all tainted with one detail that I cannot overlook: the gang who killed his wife have guns engineered into their arms. Like jacked-up spidermen, all they have to do is flex their palm to unload a couple of rounds. Despite this genius mutation, only a couple of these robo-mercenaries effectively use the fucking thing. That includes the one guy who accidentally blows his own head off.
Unbelievably, the film is pretty content with this. The other lackeys seem happier to take their chances with a kitchen knife, conveniently stacking the chips in Grey’s favour. I’m sorry, but watching these limp-armed henchmen fail to deliver any kind of blow is as hard to grasp as a flaccid dick… and just as disappointing.
Looking beyond this, the mostly gun-less action is actually the only thing that provides a sense of pace and tension to the film. The movement is sudden and grabs your attention with impressive flexing and satisfying bone cracks.
Alas, much like the stale bread you eat at a restaurant while waiting for your steak, you have to chew through the long drawn out story to get to the meaty bits.
The film’s major drawback is that it fails to deliver any emotional substance needed to help you endure long scenes of Grey’s experience as a sometimes-quadriplegic widower. The hurried plot dips its toe into too many characters while demanding you remain sympathetic to the hero’s cause. Near impossible as the only thing you really get to know about Grey is that he likes to repairs old cars and was once “happy”, and now he’s “sad”. The story doesn’t even do its job to provide nuance to Grey’s relationship with STEM. A fact that becomes massively annoying when a quick attempt at the end tries to back-peddle through the story to explain everything. But in true Scooby-Doo fashion, it’s brief and inconclusive.
The films only saving grace is Detective Cortez (Betty Gabriel), whose involvement in finding the killers of Grey’s wife, leads her to suspects Grey almost immediately of being responsible for a whole bunch of murdering. It’s so immediate it could practically pass as lazy writing, but I give her character the benefit of the doubt because, quite frankly, she is brilliant. Savvy, devious and unabashed, Cortez tags along as Grey’s shadow giving us just a glimpse of her stamina. By the end of the film, I found myself fantasising about how she’d single handily take down the group of cyborg murder men (probably with two shotguns and a grenade).
Underusing all of the exciting concepts in the film, while simultaneously failing to pass the believability test of its own universe, “Upgrade” feels like a waste. Some might find it worth a view just for a few splashes of blood but be warned, this is no trigger-happy adventure but a half-baked sob story with a supercomputer thrown in.
My advice? Pass on the bread basket and get hammered on the wine instead.
Run Time: 149 mins
Certificate: 15 – Violence, but no nudey bits
Dir: Leigh Whannell
Writer: Leigh Whannell
UK cinema release: 31st August 2018