Not Man. Not Machine. More.
Revenge movies are a pretty hefty genre all in themselves. Some are a bit hard to watch - I’m myself not particularly a fan of the real rape-y ones - while others try and emphasize a specific twist to differentiate themselves. I once watched an Antonio Banderas revenge flick where his twist was that he didn’t talk until the revenge was completed. In the case of Upgrade, the twist is cybernetic enhancements of the future! Look, let’s get real here - I saw a shotgun arm in a trailer for it, and that’s really all it took to sell me on checking this one out. Let’s find out if this movie can bring in the extra slot of RAM, or if it would have been better off being scrapped.
Plot in this thing is pretty much exactly what it sells at face value - a revenge movie with some “upgrades”, if you’ll pardon the pun. We get just enough setup at the front end to show us why we should feel sorry for the main who is about to lose his wife and even at the front end with so little information to yet go off of, there’s people out there who can call exactly how the end will play out. I myself managed to call out quite a few things before I got there, but in honesty I was surprised by a few elements that slipped by my as I strapped in for the ride. The pacing keeps itself moving along as the more action oriented of this genre is wont to do. The big twist or spice this movie brings to it is that it provides at least a little bit of spice to the same old formula with it’s more cybernetic elements - weapon prosthesis, AI integration, and high technology being used by all sorts of members for all sorts of things.
In that regard, things do happen to get spiced up a little bit effectively. Shotgun hands and nano-weapons make the baddies a bit more threatening, and the conceptual body horror message of not having any control over your body can pose a bit more of a threat in a forward-thinking mind than just the average terrible mugging. This also leads to some action scenes, and a bit of tech-lingo and hate throughout as well. It’s not unheard of in tech-themed thrillers for there to be a heavy-handed message of how technology can be bad and evil, or for there to be that one character that refuses to get with his times (heck, even in I, Robot such things were there). It’s a bit sad to see them spell things out so bluntly at times with lines such as “I will never understand why anyone would want to spend their life in a virtual world” and the likes though, even if it might be fitting for the character. At least most of the things that are going on in here come back in one way or another by the time the movie ends.
The movie also likes to do some fun camera moves - although fun isn’t always good one could argue. The spinning move after the setup feels like it might go for a spin longer than it needs to without adding too much to the movie beyond a visual showing of the way the main’s life is tumbled into chaos, and at moments a very auto-stabilization technique is used that makes things look off kilter. On the one hand, it’d be a nice way of showing that the AI is in control (and it is indeed used that way to a cool effect). On the other, it’s used at other odd moments in what I can only assume is an attempt to show things are “off”, but it comes off feeling more like it’s just there because the editor or director though it would be cool - sort of like the overuse of “bullet time” in movies post The Matrix. Either way, the camera does a good job using cuts and movement so outside of those moments it feels like a well put together movie as far as shots go.
That particularly comes in handy during some of the fight scenes, which are pretty fun. Certainly not for everyone, however, is the level of violence they can go into - if you couldn’t bring yourself to watch a red band trailer because it might be too graphic, this won’t be for you. People get messed up in this movie - which is great for the effects department and people like me who enjoy that sort of thing. Granted, the surgery scene towards the beginning had me wincing a little bit, which is funny considering the arguably worse things to come when bad guys start getting dropped, but sometimes that’s just how it is. An interesting thing pops up here and there, such as the “take control” stand up maneuver that happens a few times, that uses camera tricks to help make it look even cooler than it actually is, but it’s also somewhat amusing how little it feels like effects get used considering these cyberneticaly enhance folks with guns in their arms are running about.
It’s not all about fights and gun-arms though. The main perceived focus with revenge flicks may be the revenge part, but there’s also usually some form of character growth to the main, and here it’s no different even though it somewhat is. Here, we have a revenge seeker who doesn’t necessarily like what he’s doing - and that’s a little bit of a conflict that you normally don’t get in the revenge movie, particularly by the end of it. This banks on the actor doing a pretty good job, and here the actors do a better job than I expected (I was figuring a very polished B-movie here), even if they don’t necessarily find themselves on an award winning pedestals or anything of that sort. The main has some great moments of comedy that come with the “assumed control” moments, and for once I feel it’s mostly entirely intentional. The main bad guy comes off a bit conceited in an evil way, the main super-science insert comes off as somewhat detached (although oddly not as much as our main at the start, who feels a bit out of place after all the tech in the world starts getting established). The wife really doesn’t get much time to shine at all when it comes to acting, but has a good enough chemistry that you can side with the revenge plot. Again, nobody here is exactly knocking home runs with their performances, but I wasn’t disappointed in line deliveries enough to really have a specific line I could call out as “the worst” in the movie.
The effects here do a god job, even if at times it’s all pretty understated in comparison to what we’d normally see. Every now and then you get a cybernetic eye glow, or a self-driving car or police drone. More prominent feeling are the violent executions. The effects aren’t bad, all coming off as pretty passable (even if the self driving cars look goofy in my mind). If anything, only the nano-bot attack seemed out of place at all, which considering we have weaponized implants in arms if that’s the dumbest thing I can call out I really can’t complain. Audio helps keep things going as well, at least as far as music is concerned. Nothing really stood out to me, but it certainly plays it’s role. Balancing is good, and most shouldn’t have a hard time hearing any lines despite gunshots or ambient noises. The noises themselves do a pretty good job of helping it feel like the place is a busy existing world as well, with background car sounds and all that foley getting placed in there.
It’s really not a revenge movie for everyone, but it’s more attuned towards it’s more gruesome execution effects work than the general revenge plot in normal. It’s more tech infused take helps set it apart from the plethora of others, and if you go in expecting a polished B movie like I did you might actually be somewhat surprised. It might not pull the wool over your eyes on all of it’s reveals, and can be a bit blunt with some of it’s thoughtful moments, but it gave me some fun action and an enjoyable ride without having absolutely terrible acting and making me bored. If the trailer makes it feel like it’s your kind of jam, than most likely you will enjoy it as if anything the trailer doesn’t hype your expectations to the point you believe the movie is going to be something it’s not.