Film Review – Upgrade (2018)

It’s taken 27 years, three sequels, a ridiculous number of dollars and much more but here, finally, our time waiting hasn’t been for nothing. This week, amongst a plethora of fantastic releases, we have our true sequel (or three-quel) to The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day in the form of Leigh Whannel‘s Upgrade, a dazzling action-thriller that is everything we never knew we needed. Yes, we are aware this isn’t really a Terminator film/sequel, but it has its DNA (and, indeed, Paul Verhoeven’ ls Robocop) running through its veins, making you wonder how so many people got so much wrong.

But to just label Upgrade a Terminator sequel or hybrid would be a disservice to the ingenuity of writer/director Whannell, who breaks out of the horror genre to hop into the realms of sci-fi, albeit with lashings of Cameron’s obvious influence, mixed with some lashings of Verhoeven and Cronenberg violence, subtext and subtleties. It’s such a marvellous thing in cinema when you are presented with something that looks like one thing (in this case, a low-budget, 80’s influenced neo-noir that many would have thought of as a straight-to-DVD film) and surprises you in all sorts of different ways, similar to how Saw, Whannell’s horror baby he shared with James Wan, bucked the trend and became such a success. There’s lots you have seen and heard many times before, but much that you haven’t.

Logan Marshall Green (excellent in the under-age The Invitation) is Grey, a classic car repairs wizard and dealer who has sold his latest endeavour to business titan Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson), a man whose genius has taken civilisation into a new age of technological advances, from police presences to drive-ins and cars. When Grey and his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) are set upon by a group of hired thugs, the result ends in tragedy with Asja brutally murdered, Grey forever paralysed. With no hope in sight bar ending his own life, Keen approaches him about something possibly life-changing: a computer chip that could “wake up” his entire body, allowing him a new lease of life. But the computer (known as Stem, voiced by Simon Maiden) has ideas of its own – to grow beyond its current “CPU” and configure itself to take over Grey’s Grey’sbody for good.

Indeed, the narrative structure of the film is a typical revenge vigilante thriller but what sets it apart is in its action and the way it goes about moulding it’s far-reaching ideas that are expansive and out of the box. When Stem takes over, everything becomes machine-like: he moves with both purpose and grace, taking down those who have done him wrong with any the kind of efficiency that Schwarzenegger did back in 1984. This is different in many ways with the fight sequences as varied and as precise as any dance sequences in a musical, but it’s in the execution – with Whannell’s slick direction and Green’s excellent lead turn – that brings to the fore some radical new camera techniques (laced in noir lens-flares by Stefan Duscio) and stunts we haven’t seen of this ilk since The Matrix. It’s bananas but it’s oh so much fun.

While its treads on some familiar ground, Upgrade is one of the year’s standout actioners that deserves to be seen on the big screen. Whannell changed the game for horror in many ways back in the 2004 and he has done something similar here for sci-fi/action with a mesmerising if albeit over-the-top thriller. Sequel please.

Scott J.Davis | [rating=4]

Sci-fi, Action, Horror | Austraila, 2018 | 15 | 31st August 2018 (UK) | Universal Pictures | Dir.Leigh Whannell | Logan Marshall-Green, Melanie Vallejo, Steve Danielsen, Benedict Hardie, Betty Gabriel