At the end of every summer movie season, I like to go and think back and try to figure out, “what was the best surprise of the summer?” Usually that would not go to a film like Avengers: Infinity War or Deadpool 2, because those are big summer tent pole films that you expect to either love or have a lot of fun with. The best surprises of the summer are usually low budget films that you thought would just be your ordinary run of the mill predictable action/indie drama that usually have no place in the season, but end up being there because they provide so much more than you think than by just witnessing the trailer. UPGRADE will be that film for me come end of 2018. Upgrade is not only Leigh Whannell’s best directed film, it is quite possibly his best written film as well (the first Saw film holds a dear place in my ever loving horror/torture porn filled heart). The film blends sci-fi, action, humor, gore, and tone almost flawlessly. A lot of films try and combine those aforementioned things but usually only get one or two right, while the others are either neglected too much or go horribly wrong (see Netflix’s MUTE). Upgrade is a film meant to see with an audience, but even watching by yourself, you can find yourself in a guilty pleasure type situation, watching it over and over again.
What I love is that while the trailer is straight forward in what the film promises to give you, it holds a lot of things back. Trust me when I say a lot. Without giving anything away, I tried to guess what was ultimately going to happen, and when I thought I was right, the film completely pulled the rug out from under me and I was wrong (kind of like Saw did, in fact the reveal is Saw like in its editing manner, you’ll see what I mean). I love it when films do that. It keeps me on my toes. Upgrade is about a man named Grey that, following a car accident, the senseless murder of his wife, and these people that kill his wife also leave him a quadrapalegic. A friend of his who is very rich and runs a tech company, offers him a little tiny gadget named STEM, that attaches to his spinal cord/nervous system, and allows him to walk and have complete motor functions again. Grey just has to keep this tech a secret and not tell anyone else, so while he is inside his home, he can do whatever he wants, but once he steps outside, he has to fake being a quadrapalegic again. Anyway, turns out this tech can do a lot more than said, and can actually talk to Grey and analyze a whole bunch of other stuff, including the identities of those who killed his wife.
Ok, that’s where I’m stopping. That’s about the first 20 minutes of the film, and that’s all you need to know. It’s ok to watch the trailer on this one, as it doesn’t give too much away. You can see that STEM can take over Grey’s body during action packed rock em’ and sock em’ fight scenes and can completely fuck up the enemy. And this being Whannell, who gave us Saw, there are a couple of surprise very gory moments that will make you cringe yet laugh at the same time. This movie has a lot of humor for the very serious story and subject matter it displays, but for me at least, every moment of it worked. Whannell also gets his stab at giving us something more visually to look at with the action scenes, with some unique shots and long takes when the punches are thrown where you can see everything that is going on, without having to try and mask everything using lazy quick cuts and the dreadful shaky cam. The performance of non Tom Hardy Logan-Marshall Green is particularly fantastic. Especially his mannerisms. He has to look like he is fighting these bad guys while not actually being in control of his body, and all of his little quirks and manuevers he adds to the role is quite brilliant. Acting wise, the only one that bothered me a little would be that tech friend that gives him STEM, played by Harrison Gilbertson. The guy plays the role like actors Jared Leto and Dane DeHaan fucked and had a baby (this comment is in no way Roseanne racist so back off). It was a little too weird for my tastes, and I’ve seen that weirdness acting character role before and haven’t liked it too much.
But yes, out of all three movies that came out this past weekend, Adrift, Action Point, and this, Upgrade is the only one I saw and am going to see. The other two look down right awful. When walking into this my expectations were medium and I thought it would be a passable one time watch actioner that I might catch one day again on Netflix or something. Nope, I had a fucking blast with this film. It is a very tight 95 minutes that blends all the tones mentioned above with a good story. And yes, while this story you’ve seen multiple times in the machine makes men better like Robocop, etc., the frenetic and fast pace of it makes up for all the familiarity. I could totally see a sequel with a different story and it just builds upon this world that left me wanting more and that I would like to visit again real soon (maybe something John Wickesque). But yeah, Upgrade is the fun surprise of summer 2018. Went in with my senses, came out with something more.