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Upgrade (2018)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/28/2018

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Extras: No Extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/23/2018

If you've read just a few reviews on this website, then you no doubt know that we applaud and yearn for originality. We want to be told a story which is new and fresh. Having said that, every once in a while, originality can be a good thing. We all have that friend or relative who is a good storyteller and we will often ask them to regale us with one of their tales, even if we have heard it many times before. This "it's not the tale, but the teller" approach can also be applied to movies. With his work in horror films, Leigh Whannell has proven himself to be a good weaver of stories and he gets to truly prove that skill with Upgrade.

Living in an indeterminate future, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) is a Luddite who prefers to work on and sell classic cars instead of utilizing the latest gadget, despite the fact that his wife, Asha (Melanie Vallejo), works in the tech sector. (And travels in a car which is completely autonomous.) When Grey finishes his latest project and must deliver it to tech-guru Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson), Asha agrees accompany him and be his ride home. However, this ride will be their last, as it ends in tragedy, with Grey being paralyzed. While in the hospital, Grey is approached by Keen, who states that his new invention, "Stem", can give the injured man his life back. Grey agrees and soon enough, he is up and walking again. Now mobile, he decides to track down the men responsible for destroying his life and getting his revenge. However, Grey will soon learn that "Stem" can do much more than simply make his arms and legs work.

I don't know this for a fact, but I can imagine that Whannell, who wrote and directed Upgrade, had no problem selling the idea if he pitched it as "RoboCop meets Death Wish", as that's a pretty apt description. Here, we have an ordinary citizen who takes to the streets to get his revenge on criminal lowlifes (ala Death Wish) and he also cybernetically enhanced (ala RoboCop). Most film fans would able to spot those references instantly. (Although, I feel certain that some would mistakenly refer to Grey as The Terminator.) However, there is something from the world of media which is far more similar to Upgrade. In the early 1990s, Marvel Comics reintroduces the character Deathlok with a new origin. In this incarnation, he was a mild-mannered man named Michael Collins who decided to blow the whistle on his corrupt employers, and for his troubles, had his brain placed in the body of a cyborg. This may not sound all that close to Upgrade, but those who read this series will remember that one of highlights was when Collins would argue with the computer in his head, as his raw emotion and the computer's logic would clash. These conversations, which often took place during action sequences, were hilarious and gave the comic a lot of charm. The exact same thing happens in Upgrade.

So, what you're hearing is that Upgrade is not very original. While the movie does present a lot of familiar factors, it is still a very worthwhile venture. As noted above, Whannell is a good writer and he's able to squeeze a nice amount of emotion from the story, making us root for Grey, even though he's technically breaking the law. Whannell knows where to place the emphasis on the story, and where to keep things simple. But, what's surprising is the visual skill which Whannell brings to Upgrade. With Insidious: Chapter 3, his directorial debut, Whannell did an admirable job of continuing James Wan's style. But, with Upgrade, he shakes things up, giving the fight sequences a real dynamic flair. Even those who aren't into the story will suddenly sit up and take notice when the interesting camera movements begin during the brawls.

While there seems to be a fairly good variety of genres swarming around these days, we don't get as many satisfying action films as we used to. Upgrade is here to fill that void (although, yes, it does skew very sci-fi). While some viewers will be annoyed by how derivative some parts of the story are, and how predictable the twist is, Upgrade is still an engrossing film which offers a nice balance of action, suspense, and some laughs. Whannell also proves that he's not going to play it safe, as there is some truly graphic violence here and the ending is quite risky. While this is a studio film, with its violence and rawness, it has the air of the kind of cult movie that one would have had to seek out in the past.

Upgrade...wait a minute...his name is Grey? "Up-Greyed?"...Whoa...on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. This is a dark film, but the picture is well-balanced and the action is always visible. The colors are somewhat muted, but the reds and golds look good. The level of detail works very well and the depth is notable. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.3 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The action sequences provide a wealth of audio effects, from detailed surround sound to strong bass. The voice of "Stem" often comes from the rear channels, helping to place us firmly in Grey's shoes. The stereo effects show good separation and help to delivers sounds coming from off-screen.

The Upgrade Blu-ray Disc contains no extra features. This is truly a shame, because for once I wanted some behind-the-scenes information, specifically on the shooting of the fight sequences.

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long