Noah Thompson’s review published on Letterboxd:
"You think in ones and zeroes, while we think in every regret of our fucking lives." - Grey Trace
After a rather stressful first day of summer classes, which will likely result in myself dropping one of my classes, I was in dire need of detoxing. A movie where I could just go in, throw away all of my problems, and just immerse myself in what was in front of me. Nothing more. Let me tell you, Upgrade did the trick and then some. Kickass, standout, and oozing confidence, this is the type of action entertainment that gets me going. I might be riding the high wave on this right now, but I don't really mind. I want to do my best to be as critical as I think one can be towards film, yet there are times where the testosterone kicks in and all of the little rampant flaws don't matter as much. Sometimes, I just ride the ride.
I'll start with my gripes before I get into the good stuff. The first ten to fifteen minutes are... not good, put simply. The acting's flat and the writing doesn't help the situation. The wife character has no personality. She's a living plot device with cleavage. Her and Grey have no chemistry. It's hard to get behind a character when you don't particularly feel anything at the moment that shifts the plot forward. On that note, some of the writing. characters, and performances didn't do it for me all that much. Officer Cortez is a police officer. That is the extent of her character. The villains are one-note as well. Blank slates for Grey and Stem to enact their vengeance upon. Some of the lines of dialogue are either too cheesy, stereotypical, or just delivered poorly.
So, the writing and most of the characters bugged me. How did I like this film as much as I did then? For starters, this is visually stunning for multiple reasons. For being a seemingly lower budget film, all of the effects, practical or CGI, looked really good. Nothing appeared fake or unreasonable. This might be the most realistic "near-future" film to have come out in recent memory, yet it still has fun with things like guns implanted in the hands of criminals. Besides the looks of the effects, the cinematography, especially in the action sequences, is top-notch. I have full confidence in saying from tone to the way it's shot that the first action sequence will go down as one of the greatest of this current decade. Brutality perfectly balanced with levity. Regardless of it being shown almost in its entirety in trailers for the film, it still hit hard in the theater. While other sequences don't reach its greatness, all of the camerawork and choreography is wholly unique and a joy to see. Money on the table, what action or superhero franchise will Leigh Whannell get to pilot after this? (Let's not forget to mention the bombastic color schemes, ranging from menacing reds to enchanting neon.)
Though I have issues with most of the characters and performances, Logan Marshall-Green as Grey Trace (The ultimate action hero name.) is unreasonably good here. Though his general range of line delivery was impressive, what truly blew me away was his physical acting. I would love to know how the mechanical motions of both Grey and the villains operated. Managing to make the audience feel the entire time Grey is not in control of his own actions is a hard feat, something I would imagine even the top actors in the game could have trouble with. Hats off to Logan. Besides Grey, I adored Stem. Imagine if HAL 9000 knew kung fu. His deadpan nature pairs nicely with Grey's occasional bombastic responses to the gore and grime throughout the film. We at least get some good chemistry. Whilst thinking about it, perhaps the flat delivery of other characters throughout the film is meant as an auditory motif of a world that is surrounded by the monotone of technology, Grey being the only one attempting to fully hold onto his humanity. In the film, it is mentioned that there are some things that even a machine cannot do better than a man. Perhaps the true thing above all others is the ability to feel. Emotions can get in the way, but sometimes, they are all we have.
I'd want to briefly touch on the music of the film, which bangs hard when it's used. Synth scores have been my shit as of late. It helps evoke an 80's aesthetic that the film seems to want to go for, yet still allows it to act as something current. I believe that's my strongest compliment I can give to Upgrade, though it'll sound backhanded at first. Upgrade feels like a million ideas that have been done to death before mashed together that by some odd miracle morphs into something unique.
Without giving away what occurs, Upgrade has an ending that is pitch black, one that boosts my rating for it up half a point. It makes Infinity War look like child's play. Some might consider it a little on the nose or annoying, but I loved it. It pushes a message that has been portrayed many times before: Technology is bad. We need to hold onto our humanity while we can before it's too late. But, perhaps it is already too late. Perhaps the rise is upon us and we don't know it yet. Perhaps we are those VR men and women in that dingy apartment building, trapped in the fake world of our own will. After all, the fake world is a lot less uglier than the real one. Grim themes aside, Upgrade was absurdly fun for me. Dark yet not lacking a sense of humor. Taking itself seriously but not to the point of being pretentious. Confidence is arrogance with reason. Including myself, there were six people at my screening. Please go see and support films like this. Go out and give your viewing experience an Upgrade. (When this comes out on Blu-Ray, I have a feeling this will be a frequent watch.)