After a brutal attack leaves him disabled and his wife murdered, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) has nothing to live for - that is, until a reclusive tech genius offers him a chance to regain the use of his limbs. After the operation, Grey soon realises that the tech in his neck can do more than help him walk - it has given him the ability to hunt down the men who killed his wife... whether he wants to or not.
A contemporary version of the cheap-n-cheerful b-movies of yesteryear, Upgrade is an unpretentious action thriller that has a lot of fun with its premise. We have seen versions of this story before, where a man is horrifically injured or killed, is rebuilt as a robot/supernatural creature/superhero, and goes on to destroy his enemies (Robocop, The Crow, Spawn etc). What makes Upgrade stand out is the relationship between Grey and STEM, the computer chip controlling his body.
There is a cliché to these kinds of narratives that Upgrade thankfully avoids - usually the main character only needs the confidence of his new abilities to turn into an action hero. Grey, on the other hand, is always portrayed as an ordinary guy who is in over his head. Initially, he is content to use STEM's abilities to identify the culprits and give the info to the police. And when that investigation leads to a confrontation with one of the killers, he freezes.
It makes for a bigger distinction when STEM takes over and vanquishes his enemies. There is something blackly comic about these action sequences, as Marshall-Green's brutal actions are juxtaposed with his horrified reactions - the movie begins to feel like a buddy cop movie where the average joe and the bad ass are played by one person.
As said person Logan Marshall-Green is really good. There is never a point where it feels like he turns into a straight action hero - he always feels completely at odds with his actions. The rest of the cast are fine - this movie is really just a programmer, so there are no real flashy parts for actors to bite into. Betty Gabriel (Get Out) plays the cop on Grey's tail - she's good, but the role does not give her much to do. Considering how many movies she has done for Blumhouse lately, I'm surprised they have not given Gabriel her own vehicle.
Since the movie is based around a quadriplegic character, I was interested to see how this aspect of the character played out. To its credit, the filmmakers do not make Grey's disability the focus of his despair. His goal is always to get back at the people who took his wife away.
While it is not on the level of Blumhouse's more high profile offerings, Upgrade is a fun little movie that once again proves that you do not need hundreds of millions of dollars to put out an entertaining genre flick.
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