Upgrade is the visceral, single-vision action film that 2018 desperately needed, but probably doesn't deserve.
Written and directed by Leigh Whannell, an Australian actor, writer of Saw and Insidious movies, and relative newbie director as this is only his second film. You'd never guess it watching this stylistic and taught scifi actioner. The basic idea is that a quadriplegic is given mobility again via a billionaire inventor's chip implant -- an AI that can control the body -- and uses it for a little revenge hunt, falling into a deeper mystery along the way.
|Mystery that requires a wonderful amount of violence to solve!|
The plot is so trimmed and concise that despite it being a mystery action thriller set in a slick and extensively-imagined distant future, it clocks in at just an hour and forty minutes, not feeling rushed for one second. The plot is no Chris Nolan thinker or Marvel menagerie, but it keeps you on your toes the whole way through and delivers twists and turns with ease and confidence. And as I said, it is clearly the vision of a single person -- a single person with a very clear vision. It doesn't falter, it doesn't stumble; if it has faults it doesn't care.
After an action year that's so far been almost nothing but big studio pictures made by committee (even if they're made well by committee) I can't tell you how refreshing it is to get a clean, unaffected story told in a single voice. It had the same effect on me as if I had been listening to 5 different songs at the same time for the past few months, and then they all stopped for a moment to allow this to shine through. You can feel the silence in the background. And that single, confident voice cuts through, crystal clear and refreshing as cold water.
|On paper it may seem familiar. But with the way its presented it's nothing if not unique.|
And then it cuts some guy's face open cause this makes big use of it's R rating, violence-wise. It doesn't go over-the-top relentlessly, but when it gets violent, it gets violent. I think the movie even boasts itself as being ultra-violent. But the great thing is, it doesn't overwhelm, so the moments that do go for it have a maximum impact. There's lots of hand-to hand style combat filmed in a super cool way, and the choreography is top notch. It has a calm but swift, robotic style to it -- which make sense since it's the robotic chip who's fighting. And it's filmed with the same style in mind.
The main guy, Grey, is played by Logan Marshall-Green, who's mainly recognizable for supporting work in flicks like Spider-Man: Homecoming (He's the Shocker -- look at me, I'm the Shocker! What is this, pro wrestling?) and I went into this expecting no less than for him to fade nicely into the fight sequences, a mere vehicle for carnage (like his character) but the guy has skills -- the least of which is a great talent for robotic-type jerky start-and-stop movement. A detail that I adored. His character has actual character, and he handles the drama flawlessly. It's not dwelt on, it's action that's the main focus, but he genuinely gets you to care, with simplistic and confident beats.
|There's a joke that he's the "discount Tom Hardy" but he didn't for a second remind me of him.|
The camera-work was one of my favorite details. The camera often tracks Grey during fight scenes to keep him in the center of the frame -- twisting and bending to unconventional angles as he does. The result of emphasized movement is unusual and intentional, used to enhance the thrills through motion, and achieving something I've never seen before to this degree and with this kind of electric style. Visually, the whole movie is brilliant, with precise framing, plus coloring and lighting that's basically non-stop silhouette against neon. My absolute jam.
Still my highest compliments must go to the dogged vision of this film. I loved the direction that it went; the stylistic and narrative risks it took. Despite a mess-free simplicity that boarders on basic, the narrative takes some turns that I could never see a big-time executive approving in my wildest dreams. It's just too unsafe. Unconventional. And it's the exact reason why this film works so fully, and feels complete and finished when the credits start to roll.
|I mentioned the world-building right? I expected great action but not this fantastic scifi world!|
A story told in sensory high-definition. There are elements that probably could have been polished up in a pinch -- but as a whole it feels so polished and unblemished, you can practically see the glistening sheen. Or maybe that's just a puddle of blood on the tile floor. Either way, it's slick, hot, and dangerous -- and possesses the unmistakable taste of hardcore metal.
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