Upgrade is a B-Movie and when the audience and the film itself embraces this, everyone is going to have a lot of fun.
Set in semi-futuristic USA, Grey (Logan Marshall-Green), paralysed following a freak attack on he and his wife, the latter of whom was brutally killed, is soon able to walk again following a miracle implant which we are basically told can do anything. Granted him by one lithely elusive boy-genius Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), the technology, known as Stem, soon permits him mental and physical powers hitherto undreamt.
If this sounds like a movie that shouldn’t take itself too seriously then you’re right. The cast, rife with lax performances and largely forgettable save an always excellent Marshall-Green, like every piece of endearing theatricality is tailor-made for ever-enjoyable B-movie shtick. Not taking itself at face value in it’s opening act and proceeding at a slow pace that could just as well have left ten more minutes for the ensuing carnage, the welcome tonal shift marked by Grey’s first brutal encounter (mostly) sustains itself throughout the rest of the film.
This, an ultra-violent confrontation in the home of one of the men responsible for his wife’s death, is already one of the stand-out film sequences of the year. Seething with blackest humour and a wholly novel take on revenge-killing, Grey coming to terms with the extent of his powers and heightened sense of high-tech control hints at that which Lucy or Eagle Eye erred ever so hard in trying to achieve and possibilities which more consummate offerings ala Firefly barely teased.
A superb sequence in a warehouse and another in a club, wreaking with memorable advents in human combat, too come close to the earlier evinced semblance of just how far a film can go when it so deftly mixes violent abandon with, as realised and on evident display here, the form’s own conversely comic attributes.
The aforementioned warehouse sequence, utilising a recurring backdrop of several VR-induced stations, lends the film an eerie motif only matched by the spiralling, notably distinct camera-work which accompanies each and every fight. Making good use of the film’s speculative science and increasingly less theoretical questions about the impact of technological advancements, an engrossing and refreshingly, ahem, analogue car chase is one of a few instances where the clash between that natural and else is all the more palpable.
Upgrade, in the tradition of so many of it’s precursors, suggests throughout an obvious conclusion. Turning this and more on it’s head in the final frames in a manner that recommends this film near above all else comes as a genuinely thrilling surprise. All the more notable for tying Upgrade’s thematic and actual plot strands together more neatly than you would typically expect of like fare, the clever misdirection and reveals coyly upend our perceptions of umpteen events that one could just as easily have taken as endemic to any and almost every B-grader, of which this is a far cut above.
Upgrade screened as part of the Sydney Film Festival and will be in cinemas from 14 June
Upgrade on Film Fight Club