Ewan Gleadow

Review: Upgrade

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Though an independent school of highly artsy, ultra-violent cinema is currently thriving, it has taken me some time to adapt to it. Upgrade felt right at home though, with the flashy independence of films like Good Time being subverted by larger production values making it feel more like a hybrid of John Wick and Ex Machina.

Blending two of the greatest movies of all time is no small feat, but Upgrade manages to pull it off in tremendous fashion. 

Logan Marshall-Green may not be a name that you quite recognise, however you may have seen him in smaller roles in Prometheus or Spider-Man: Homecoming. With these small roles acquainting us with his work, it’s nice to see Marshall-Green, a definite talent, get a chance at a leading man role. His performance in Upgrade is intense and extremely enjoyable.  

One of the most impressive parts of the movie is, of course, Leigh Whannel’s impressive direction – in particular, its action scenes and general choreography, which feature some of the finest visual work I’ve seen in a long while.

Simon Maiden (who voices STEM, an AI chip that can serve as an auxiliary brain) and Marshall-Green have some superb chemistry with one another and that, along with the excellent choreography, is what sets Upgrade apart from its competition. Maiden’s calm and unnerving voice guide us through what is a tense and stressful time for the protagonist, and it’s all done so convincingly and subtly. Talking about it and subjecting it to criticism spoils a lot of the movie, but it’s this chemistry and ultimate crescendo between the two that make the movie complete.  

For all this praise for Upgrade, it certainly has some problems – most notably being the blank and shallow supporting cast and villains. Nobody is really all that memorable, and the scenes that don’t feature both Marshall-Green and Maiden really struggle to keep up the pace. It feels like the entire focus of the writing has gone on building the relationship between man and machine and all the metaphors it may bring, but doing so makes the human characters ironically robotic, especially those that are limited to just a handful of scenes. 

Ambiguous, creative and overall a genuinely fun bit of film, Upgrade hits all the right notes and has what it takes to cement itself as one of the most solid action films around. It’s both an enjoyable action movie that can be taken for surface value and a dream for those cinephiles ready to invest themselves of the deeper moral questions Upgrade has to offer.

This is a very, very brilliant and impressive action movie that borders on being one of the greatest of the 21st century.