Upgrade, written and directed by Leigh Wannell, offers some fascinating concepts in an intriguingly realised world. However, the exploration of these elements and its plot does feel a little shallow and mis-handled. Still though, there’s something undeniably gripping and unforgettable about Upgrade. So, let’s explore everything that the film has to offer and see if it’s one that’s worth checking out.
Set in the near-future, we follow Grey – played by Logan Marshall-Green – a technofobe who after a traumatic, life-changing event must rely on the one thing he loathes and take advantage of its upgrades to right the wrongs that have been done to him.
My experience with Upgrade had me being utterly wowed in some moments and then nagged my off-putting little inconsistencies in other moments. I never found a groove with this film, but somehow, that didn’t ever stop me from being completely engaged by it.
Let’s start where most stories do: the beginning. For me, the opening to Upgrade didn’t do a good job of enticing me into its story, unlike its visuals, its world and its concepts did, but I’ll touch upon them in a little bit. The introduction of the main character and his subsequent journey felt rushed. It flies through the establishment of Grey and his life, it introduces elements that are solely plot driven and never felt meaningful in their use, and it all made for a beginning that I felt very detached from. I’m assuming it was a limitation in budget was the cause for such a truncated feeling beginning, but it still didn’t stop the film from feeling like it was just trying to get the necessary establishment of things out-of-the-way so that it could get to its visually flashy content.
It meant that when the film did inevitably get to where it wanted to be, the effectiveness of the situation was lost on me. I had formed no connection to Grey and while the film clearly wanted me to sympathise and care for him and his situation, I didn’t. In fact, I don’t think that disconnection with Grey ever went away. It was only because of the other stellar elements to Upgrade that this film wasn’t a total failure for me, but again, I’ll get to those in a moment.
Things weren’t helped by the fact that the film then set-off into a largely predictable story with a lot of elements that have been done before in many other works of science fiction. It was a troublesome combination of a plot that I had seen many times before and therefore was able to easily predict a lot of the twists before they happened, and also that the characterisation of the characters was handled in a way that left everyone feeling very one-dimensional, and in some cases cliché. And then when you throw on top of that a tone that was never consistent and left a number of scenes feeling very confused, well then, it’s very surprising for me what I’m about to say.
Despite these major issues. Issues that would easily sink any other film for me and leave me feeling severely disappointed in the time I spent with it; Upgrade was still a film I very much enjoyed. There are elements to this film that wowed me. That left me stunned. When leaving the cinema, my friend and I spent much of the journey home gushing about the film.
Diving into all the little details we loved, breaking down moments and trying to decipher how exactly they might have pulled certain scenes off, and just generally having enjoyed our time with the film. Yes, we took the time to discuss the problems in the film, but Upgrade did things that were able to over-right the issues and leave us excited by what we had just watched. It’s quite incredible actually, that a film with such bothersome issues could still make such an impact on me.
So, what are some of those elements? Well, the first would be the dynamic that forms between Grey and Stem (the A.I. device in his body). There is a great amount of comedy that comes from the two of them working together, and also a great amount of action and brutal violence that really catches you off guard. I remember the first time there was a moment of savage brutality and the moment was so unexpected, while also executed in a comical way, that it left myself and the audience around me stunned, shocked and also laughing. It was such a rewarding moment to be a part of. It’s one of those cinema going experiences that comes around every so often and sharing in it with a crowd who is enjoying it as much as you are is a very cathartic, uplifting experience.
And speaking of the action in Upgrade, wow! I don’t fully understand how they did it, but there is a particular filming technique employed for the action scenes in the film and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. There is both a movement to the camera and the main character Grey that creates this rhythmic, exciting set of events that left me wide-eyed with giddiness. The final fight scene between Grey and Fisk – played by Benedict Hardie – is particularly brilliant to watch.
And all of this is set in a futuristic world that is greatly realised. Technology feels believable in its progression. Locations feel new and different but still with elements that are familiar, and the design and look of it all shows that a lot of time, effort and quality went into fully realising the designs the artists had in front of them. This is all then aided by some great work by the film’s director of photography, Stefan Duscio, who creates an atmospheric, moody looking world, filled with sharp lighting and grungy shadows.
It’s a combination of these elements and a few other contributing factors that saw me being so enamoured with the film. I didn’t get pulled in immediately. It took some time for the effects of the film to work on me. But when they did, I was hooked. I sat there in pure joyful amazement, taking in the sci-fi wonder of it all – while only being turned-off a handful of times by some wonky decisions. But overall, this was a film I very much enjoyed.
I definitely recommend, Upgrade. There’s something to this film that just works. It’s an exciting feeling to have. You should absolutely make the time to get out to the cinema and enjoy this film. It won’t re-shape your love of sci-fi, it won’t stun you with an original story that leaves you pondering its meaning (think of it like a poor man’s lack Mirror episode) but you’ll undoubtedly have a fun time watching it.
I’d be really interested to know what you thought of Upgrade, so please, leave any opinions or feedback you may have down in the comments section – that would be grand! If you liked what you read here, may I ask that you consider following both/either my blog and/or my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – and that way I might be able to grow this silly little blog into something more. Anyway, I’ll bring these ramblings to a close now by thanking you wholeheartedly for your time. I can’t stress how much it means to me! Thank you and have a great day!