Ryne Walley’s review published on Letterboxd:
Imagine “Deus Ex: Human Revolution” by way of RedLetterMedia’s “Best of the Worst.” That right there is essentially Leigh Whannell’s “Upgrade,” a slice of sci-fi ultraviolence that might as well be express shipped from the ‘80s on a VHS. And you know what? It’s actually a pretty decent romp that knows exactly what it is and what it’s gotta do. There’s like 75 minutes of plot and the film’s 100 minutes long. Perfect, kinda.
Right off the bat, the most noticeable issues with “Upgrade” are narratively based. The film chokes its way through exposition, thankfully making way for the feast to come faster than I was expecting. The opening 10 minutes are easily the worst in the whole show when it comes to setting the plot in motion. It’s seriously minute after minute of paint by the numbers establishing chatter that makes you roll your eyes with every line delivered.
On a broader critique of the script, I sadly can’t say that I felt all that attached to many of the characters (aside from Grey Trace). They’re there to serve their purpose and get shit done with very little in the way of surprise. The story beats involving any sidetracking with Betty Gabriel’s Detective Cortez felt the most carboard to say the least. You could’ve honestly taken her character out entirely and nothing regarding the main quest for vengeance would be different. Filler to bump that runtime up I suppose.
Now, when “Upgrade” hits its stride, it clobbers. The makings of the best type of Saturday night revenge flick from 1985 are here, trimmings and all. Logan Marshall-Green is given just the right amount of build-up to sell us on his performance and the grisly plight of the lead character, Grey Trace. From there, he’s transformed into a blue-collar badass who’s been given the augmented means to dispatch his foes in one violent ballet number after another. Whannell executes some seriously exciting and fascinating camerawork with cinematographer Stefan Duscio during these savage sequences while Marshall-Green does a wonderfully tone appropriate job of showing us that he’s not 99¢ Tom Hardy. He’s humorous, serious, and ready to rock. It felt like he and Whannell really understood what style they were after and worked fluidly with one another make that as realized and enjoyable for the audience as possible.
Disposable to a certain degree, but incredibly fun when it hits its marks. “Upgrade” suffers plainly and in a somewhat basic manner. It tries to recover to the best of its abilities when it can and that’s mighty admirable. Sprinkle those kinetic fight scenes in and the film manages to float for long enough to maintain your interest. Good shit.
“You didn’t know that I was a fucking ninja.”
Just watch the Crypt TV throwback trailer and realize how irresistibly ‘80s “Upgrade” is at its core.