By Gibson’s Deck and Dick’s Electric Sheep, it is a great time to be a Cyberpunk fan in the world of movies. Blade Runner had a great sequel, Altered Carbon was quite an enjoyable TV show, and even the disappointing MUTE had comedic actor Paul Rudd as a villain so that was neat, wasn’t it? Does Leigh Wannell’s UPGRADE, live up to the current wave of Cyberpunk? Find out in Sandwich Revolver’s first written review!!
SPOILERS AHOY by the way.
The BEER: Yes, even in written form we are going to be pairing our reviewed films with beer. Beer being part of the life blood of Sandwich Revolver. The beer being paired with UPGRADE (2018) will be something a tad different this time.
Based in England, IntelligentX Brewing Company has a selection of four different beers that were designed by an A.I. algorithm, which is Cyberpunk AF. After as we know (please tell us if we are wrong) the beer is not available here in the USA so we have not tried it yet. Still, the idea of a beer developed by an A.I. fits perfectly with UPGRADE, which is about a man being aided by an A.I. So there you go.
Story: UPGRADE is of the revenge movie genre and boy is it the genre to the max. Any movie buff will tell you the genre follows as such, Guy Normal lives normal life, wife/child (Or Dog if this is John Wick) is killed/kidnapped, guy is hurt, guy heals with the help of outside force, and then seeks revenge for his wife’s/child’s murders/abduction. It is a genre populated by titles such as Deathwish (1974), The Crow (1994), Kill Bill (2003), Man on Fire (2004), just to name a few. I am a fan of this genre, and I have seen it done the correct way as well as done horribly wrong. Maybe that will be the subject of another piece. In the meanwhile, UPGRADE does it right, so freaking right.
We like Grey, and his wife Asha and this is key to any story. The unexpected change comes flawlessly and hits hard. It is heartbreaking and unexpected when Asha is killed by Fisk and his men. Grey is powerless to stop it and ends up being paralyzed by Fisk’s men. The action in the film builds on itself, and there are never boring moments. The twist is similar to one that we have seen before in an earlier Leigh Wannell script. I will not say it here, but anyone who has seen both films knows what I am referring to.
Director: The guy in charge of it all in this flick is Leigh Wannell, who is known for writing the screenplays for films such as Saw (2003), Saw 3 (2006) Dead Silence (2007), and Insidious (2010) to name a few. His directorial debut came in 2015 with Insidious: Chapter 3. While I have not yet had the chance to view Insidious: Chapter 3, what evidence that can be drawn from UPGRADE points to Wannell being a competent and skilled director. Sitting in the theater, my attention was continually maintained by what was happening on screen. Never once did I lose interest in what was happening or who it was happening to. Every decision worked with the film, and not once did I not understand what a character wanted or what they were about. Well done.
Acting: I love when a film works and has no big names in it. It just goes to fuel my theory that one does not need big names to make a movie. Logan Marshall-Green does a great job playing our technophobe self employed entrepreneur mechanic Grey Trace. A working character actor, Logan Marshall-Green has been in films such as Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012), Spider-man Homecoming (2017), and The Invitation (2015) as well as TV shows such as 24 and The O.C. The man does a pretty solid bit of both emotional and physical acting. I hope this leads to him being cast as the lead in future films.
Benedict Hardie, plays the film’s antagonist Fisk, a highly augmented cyborg assassin. I really found him unnerving, and dug the subtle way he sold that he is a man who has, through technology, become the member of a new race.
Melanie Vallejo, who plays Grey’s doomed wife Asha, has a real presence and does fine job with the limited screen time she is given.
Betty Gabriel, who was previously in 2017’s GET OUT, plays Cortez, the sympathetic, but relentless Police Detective in charge of Grey’s case. What I found refreshing about her character was that she went against what one typically sees in this genre. Revenge movies always have the police officer that checks in on the main character. Typically, the character starts against the vigilante and then grow to see things from their perspective. This has been reversed in UPGRADE. Cortez starts being sympathetic to Grey, but slowly becomes suspicious of him and eventually goes full on against his cause.
Harrison Gilbertson was fun as the brilliant, but socially retarded tech company creator Eron. STEM, his creation, was skillfully brought to life by Simon Maiden.
MUSIC AND SOUND: As I write this review, I am listening to UPGRADE’s score, which was composed Jed Palmer. I really dig it. The music was one of first things I noticed about this film. Lately with movies, especially the big budget ones, musical scores have become uninspired, and lackluster, often going completely unnoticed. Upgrade’s Score is not going to win an academy award, but it is really successful as a standout and enjoyable Cyberpunk score. Jed Palmer has eleven other composing credits including films such as Otherlife (2017), Ukraine Is Not A Brothel (2013), and The Infinite Man (2014).
The Sound Design in this flick, overseen by Supervising Sound Editor P.K. Hooker, is visceral . Any respectable action movie made today needs to have gunshots, punches, and collisions that are properly mixed and almost exaggerated. It is hard for me to take an action movie seriously when the gunshots are underwhelming or the punches and broken bones do not make me twitch. Thankfully, UPGRADE’s sound design is top notch, up there with films like John Wick (1&2), and Blade Runner 2049.
Cinematography: The Cinematographer on this flick is Australian DP Stefan Duscio, a man with a resume that consists of work like Beyonce’s Ghost music video (2013), The Mule (2014) and Jungle (2017). What Duscio does in Upgrade does not disappoint. All the rich areas are well lit with soft lighting, while all the poor areas are dark and muddled. All of the Production Desiger Felicity Abbott’s work here is beautifully photographed. The fight scenes are a dizzing dance between the actors and the camera. The camera swings and flings itself with every blow almost dragging the viewer into the fight. I cannot remember another film that does this and please if you the reader can remember one, comment below.
Comparison to Video Games: Pairing movies with video games, and video games with movies is what we do here at Sandwich Revolver. The pairing of UPGRADE with a video game is quite simple since the movie itself watches similar to how a video game plays. There are moments in the film when STEM aids Grey by helping him find clues in a room. This is just like a video game in which the a character helps the player find clues to a puzzle. Walking out of UPGRADE, I felt an strong desire to play a cyberpunk video game. Luckily, there are a good deal of Cyberpunk games available on the market today. Video games such as the Deus Ex series, Shadowrun Returns, RUINER, and others. To be specific and give you the reader a title to go for, I am behooved to pick Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
The story of Deus Ex: Human Revolution follows similar beats to that of Upgrade. It follows as so, Cybernetic soldiers kill/kidnap technophobe mechanic Grey Trace /Ex-Cop Adam Jenson’s Wife/Ex-Girlfriend leaving Grey/Adam crippled. Adam/Trace use cybernetics to regain the use of his body and then uses his new cybernetic abilities to find the Cybernetic soldiers to avenge/rescue his dead wife/ex-girlfriend. Story aside, the gameplay of DSHR consists of the player investigating places, beating up people and breaking into places to get information. In UPGRADE, Grey travels to different places beats up criminals to get information. The similarities are clear as day. Check out Deus Ex: Human Revolution if you’re looking for something to play after your UPGRADE viewing.
(Video courtesy of The Kaputnik)
Final Review: UPGRADE (2018) is a gory, funny, well crafted Cyberpunk flick that is well worth your time. I had a great time with it, and I will probably see it at least once more. Five out of Six Sandwiches. Go see it.
Drink beer. Love movies. Play video games. Be happy. -Carlton R. Diamond
Sandwich Revolver is Carlton R. Diamond and John Reeve.