‘Upgrade’: Victim of attack has a question: ‘Siri, how do I get my gruesome revenge?’
The name Logan Marshall-Green might not ring a bell immediately; he played the first scientist in Ridley Scott’s “Alien” reboot, “Prometheus” (2013) affected by the alien, his eyes going black and turning into something of a berserker before getting torched by a flamethrower and run over by a bus. Seeing “Upgrade,” a sci-fi take by longtime “Saw” collaborator Leigh Whannell (working with James Wan), it seems these are desirable acting skills, as rough, good-looking Marshall-Green plays another intrepid protagonist similarly subjected to violent torment and put through a nasty physical transformation. The good news for his Grey Trace is that the brutal smackdown happens upfront in this film; then it’s time for the upgraded Grey to lay down his own brand of ass-kicking.
Set in the near future where driverless cars are the norm and criminals and vagrants roam the littered cityscape, Grey and his wife are beset upon in a vehicle that goes way off course. It doesn’t end well – she’s dead; he might as well be. A few days later Grey’s up, learning to walk again, a super computer chip implanted in his head to help make all connections to the nerves that make him go. He also hears voices in his head: his own personal Siri, that, if Grey grants permission to take control, can use his body in lightning-fast ways. In short, he becomes his own personal “Terminator” on the trail of getting revenge on the posse of vermin who offed his wife.
Natch, there’s a fly in the ointment – corporate espionage, bottom lines and more that drive the bigger picture, and themes right out of “Frankenstein” or “Blade Runner” (1982) – but it’s all a device for Grey to tap into his inner HAL and hack up henchmen, some of whom have guns implanted in their arms; one who can sneeze deadly spores.
In the end, the clear borrowing from the great, snarky original 1987 “RoboCop” (near-future cityscape and all) almost overpowers “Upgrade.” It’s not nearly as sharp or socially biting, but does have a fresh, whimsical take on tomorrow – “Her” (2013) on crack and very angry. Whannell could have played the camp angle for more; as is, the dark and violent approach works largely thanks to Marshall-Green selling his wonder and horror so effectively. Besides genre fans, “Upgrade” is likely to prove a fun, forgettable watch, more a reboot than the next version.
Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.