Upgrade is a movie about a man who looks like Tom Hardy who becomes incredibly violent and skilled at fighting thanks to a symbiotic add-on embedded inside him. He can talk out loud to the implant’s voice, and he’s the only one who can hear it. With its help, the Tom Hardy-type is able to easily defeat a bevy of anonymous alley thugs and their ilk, though he’s plagued with the suspicion that the implant may not be entirely moral.
In the film, written and directed by Saw co-creator Leigh Whannell, the Tom Hardy-type is Logan Marshall-Green. In the upcoming movie Venom, which shares an almost identical plot, the Tom Hardy-type is Tom Hardy.
It’s unfair to criticize Upgrade for sharing a similar logline to another upcoming movie with a similar-looking star — that can be chalked up to poor timing or unlucky casting. And so, instead, let’s criticize Upgrade for also sharing a logline with about a dozen other movies and television shows.
An average man is implanted with enhanced physical abilities (possibly after paralysis or a near-death experience):
The Tuxedo, starring Jackie Chan
The Six Million Dollar Man
An average man becomes a vigilante after the violent death of his wife:
Death Wish (original and remake)
Marvel’s The Punisher
Interested in a movie that’s currently in theaters?
Might I point you to Deadpool 2, which — spoiler alert — follows a suicidal man with enhanced fighting abilities trying to get revenge after the death of his wife.
That’s not to say a movie is necessarily bad for treading on well-worn territory, but Upgrade does little else. There was probably, in one draft, a theme or central idea that this movie was attempting to convey, but the thesis must have long ago been lost to the tsunami of clunky dialogue (the characters repeatedly refer to each other as “husband” and “wife,” so the audience understands they are, in fact, husband and wife) and a generic-futuristic aesthetic.
Discussing plot holes feels like a bit of a waste of space: You know exactly what you’re getting with this movie. What does it matter, say, if Grey (Marshall-Green) is delivered case files from the police offer tasked with solving his ex-wife’s murder, as if civilians are routinely enlisted in detective work? Does it matter that the same police officer can identify Grey via the city’s ubiquitous drone cameras outside a suspect’s house but somehow not see him stand up from his wheelchair and walk, which he does on the street in plain view? Will the average viewer roll their eyes at the fact that neither the police nor Grey notice that the thugs who shot him weren’t using conventional guns, but weapons implanted in their arms? Does it matter that Grey doesn’t think to report this incredibly relevant information to the police?
No. Of course it doesn’t.
The fight scenes in which the symbiote — sorry, I mean, in which the STEM chip — takes over Grey’s motor functions are well shot and fun, but in addition to action sequences, we also get about three moments of explicit gore (all of which are shown in the trailer) that serve no purpose but to make the audience wince in a movie that otherwise presents itself as a sci-fi thriller. (Perhaps it was force of habit on Whannell’s part after working on so many Saw movies.)
That tonal whiplash is perhaps best embodied in a scene in which a villain — a fellow “upgraded” human like our hero — enters an off-the-grid biker bar and kills the bartender by sneezing at him, with tiny knives in his mucous particles. This is not played for laughs.
Upgrade ends with a twist so obvious that the only way you’ll be surprised is if you’ve suffered your own recent chip implant that has wiped your memory of every movie you’ve ever seen.
As a movie, it’s the cinematic equivalent of paint-by-numbers: competent, attractive even, but take a single step closer and the lines peek through. There’s no need to pay money to go see Upgrade: If you select it on a plane and sleep through 60% of it, you’ve seen it in its entirety.