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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Upgrade (Blu-ray)
Upgrade (Blu-ray)
Universal // R // August 28, 2018 // Region Free
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by William Harrison | posted October 2, 2018 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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THE FILM:

My favorite movie from the Summer of 2018 was one hardly anybody saw: Leigh Whannell's Upgrade. A rousing, expertly crafted B-movie, Upgrade offers a spirited leading performance by Logan Marshall-Green and plenty of violent thrills. An unexpected reprieve from soulless summer blockbusters (I'm looking at you, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.), Upgrade is a dystopian tale set on the fringe of a future utopian society in which cars drive themselves, drones patrol the streets, and the technology to beat paralysis exists. Marshall-Green's Grey Trace becomes a one-man army after being fitted with that technology, provided by a creepy tech innovator (Harrison Gilbertson). Grey spends the majority of Upgrade seeking to avenge his own injuries and hurt the men who hurt his family. Upgrade is lean, pulpy B-movie magic with solid replay value thanks to its performances and Whannell's sharp writing and direction.

Grey restores classic cars for wealthy buyers who choose American muscle over the automated, self-driving boxes that litter the streets in the future. He lives happily in a gorgeous home, also automated, with his wife, Asha (Melanie Vallejo). One night, Asha accompanies Grey on a delivery to Eron Keen (Gilbertson), who works for rival technology company Vessel. Keen shows the pair his newest innovation, STEM, a computer chip capable of serving as an auxiliary brain. Grey and Asha then drive home in her modern car, which suddenly becomes unresponsive and accelerates rapidly before flipping and crashing into a homeless camp. Within minutes, several men arrive and try to rob the injured couple. Before he can respond, Grey is shot in the back, and Asha is ultimately killed by one of the men. Grey survives but is paralyzed, and is forced to rely heavily on his mother (Linda Cropper) for assistance. When Keen offers him a chance to walk again by using an implanted STEM, Grey jumps at the chance.

One thing you'll notice almost immediately is that the performances here are far superior to most genre films, particularly Marshall-Green's, whose tumble through a range of emotions following Asha's death is authentic and effective. Keen is an off-putting presence, so viewers are not able to determine his motivations immediately. Once hosting STEM, Grey is able to walk again, and, more impressive, STEM can take over Grey's movements and make him a lethal fighter. Keen warns Grey he cannot tell anyone about STEM, which is not yet approved for use, so Grey must fool a local detective (Betty Gabriel) into thinking he is still paralyzed. With the help of some nifty future technology, Grey begins tracking down the men who attached him. Upgrade turns Grey loose in the back alleys and dive bars of the future, and he soon rankles the criminals' ringleader, Fisk Branter (Benedict Hardie), who has more in common with Grey than he realizes.

Whannell, best known for writing and producing the majority of the Saw franchise, proves himself a talent behind the camera, too. Upgrade is fist-pumping, laugh-out-loud entertainment from beginning to end. Marshall-Green capitalizes on Whannell's quick-witted script with deadpan delivery and deer-in-headlights surprise when STEM begins talking to him. STEM also unknowingly has its own sense of humor, at one point telling Grey, "I am not a ninja," after Grey dispatches a bad guy with stealthy precision. This is a midnight madness kind of movie, and at my screening the audience cheered after several of Grey's graphic kills. These are made better by Grey's shock, awe and disgust that he is even capable of such savagery. As Upgrade moves forward it reveals more about STEM, Keen, Grey and the criminals behind the attack. Fans of genre films will appreciate this unpretentious, entertaining A-grade B-movie, and I look forward to more of Whannell's directorial efforts.

THE BLU-RAY:

PICTURE:

It is too bad Universal decided to forego a 4K Ultra HD release for Upgrade, but the Blu-ray presentation is pretty fantastic. The 2.39:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is clear and detailed, and the disc handles the frequent nighttime scenes with ease. Fine-object detail is abundant in fabrics and sets, and colors are vivid and nicely saturated, particularly the neons of a seedy bar and the graphic gore in several scenes. Digital noise appears briefly but is not oppressive, and the image looks great in motion. Skin tones appear natural, and blacks are deep and inky, with impressive shadow detail.

SOUND:

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is totally immersive, with plenty of directional effects and sound pans to rattle the home theater. From the opening titles, which are read aloud in a robotic voice, the track makes known that it will immerse the viewer in the world of Upgrade. Dialogue is clear and perfectly balanced. Environmental effects are frequent, and action effects lean heavily on the LFE to support the carnage. The soundtrack is weighty and layered appropriately. Overall, this is an excellent surround mix. French and Spanish 5.1 DTS tracks are available, as are English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.

PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:

This single-disc set includes the Blu-ray and a digital copy. The disc is packed in a standard case that is wrapped in a slipcover. Unfortunately, there are no extras included. Maybe Arrow Video or Shout! Factory will get their hands on this property one day and give it a special edition.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

The best film of Summer 2018 and perhaps the biggest surprise for me, Leigh Whannell's Upgrade is an exciting action/science fiction B-movie with A-list credentials, solid performances and rousing action. Universal's Blu-ray release lacks bonus content but offers solid A/V specs. Highly Recommended.

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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