Review: Upgrade

Leigh Whannell proves to be the big star as writer/director of the hugely ambitious and hugely entertaining Upgrade. Proof that you don’t need a mega budget to dazzle and engross, Upgrade leaps off the screen with its glorious retro action kitsch, a committed turn from Logan Marshall-Green, and a script full of big ideas. Oh… and Melbourne looks fabulous on screen! Go, Aussie, Go!

Writer/Director Whannell (Saw, Insidious, Cooties) bylines his twitter account with but two words: Film. Lover. And he sure. He always has been and his total action sci-fi fanboy is given great service with Upgrade. Harking back to the days of Runaway, Hardware, RoboCop, Universal Soldier, Ghost in the Machine, and dashes of Blade Runner and knowing nods to the early works of David Cronenberg, Whannell furiously builds a not-too-distant future that’s full of homages and has its own sense of style and purpose.

Antique muscle car restorer Grey (Marsall-Green) is all but complete on his work delivering a souped up Pontiac Firebird for reclusive Tech Empire Wunderkind Eron (Harrison Gilbertson). So happy is he, Grey drags along his reluctant girlfriend Asha (Melanie Vellajo) to show off the buyers new pad. When Eron reveals his latest invention STEM, a microchip that can learn, solve and enhance everything its attached to, Grey reveals himself as a technophobe.

When an unrelated vicious attack on Grey and his wife leaves him a quadraplegic hell bent on revenge, he becomes the first guinea pig to have STEM inserted into his body. Not only can he walk again, he can do much, much more…

What’s most impressive about Upgrade, apart from just how much fun (gory at times) it is, is the script is full of ambition. Ideas bounce around inside the framework of this sci-fi actioner that hint at the implications of technology and what means for the world. Don’t get me wrong, Upgrade it out to have a demented good time and makes full use of its humble means to deliver an explosive and rip roaring yarn. Like all good B movies of the day, and the films that Upgrade nods to, there’s an undercurrent here that keeps this from being just another body count movie.

Alongside that, that this crew managed to deliver the film on a budget that is rumoured between $3-$5m is astounding. Shot in Melbourne (which looks glorious at night on the big screen), cinematographer Stefan Duscio (Jungle, The Mule) captures the grittiness and decay of this world with aplomb. Add to that, the choreography of the fight scenes which are imaginatively shot further enhance the experience. From following the characters movements, to erratic and choppy frames accentuating his disability, it’s adventurously shot which adds nothing but charm to the overall film.

Never fear, though, Whannell services his fans with bloody carnage for all, serving up a smorgasbord of kills to keep you happy. Add to that one helluva committed central turn from easy-on-the-eye Logan Marshall-Green and the result is one of the most surprising and flat out entertaining releases of the year.

Upgrade signals many things. It’s Leigh Whannell’s most lucid, assured, ambitious and entertaining work hands down. It’s proof that you don’t need a mega-budget to make a rampage of a movie. It’s a signal that the adventurous spirit of the Australian Film Industry is alive and well. And, moreso, it’s one helluva rip roaring time in a cinema! Don’t Miss It!