starring Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson, Benedict Hardie
written and directed by Leigh Whannell
by Walter Chaw I can't imagine I'll ever see a better Venom movie than Leigh Whannell's Upgrade, the story of a mild-mannered Luddite mechanic named Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) who one day, after delivering a tricked-out antique ride to cyber-genius Keen (Harrison Gilbertson), is paralyzed in a terrible accident and forced to watch his girlfriend, tech-company functionary Asha (Melanie Vallejo), get assassinated by modded-out thugs led by psychopath Fisk (Benedict Hardie). In the film's near-future, there are limited Tetsuo: The Iron Man body modifications like guns embedded in gunsel's palms and enhanced limbs and vision alongside more common advances like self-driving cars and A.I. assistants. The tech, in other words, is entirely credible at first, as the film eases us into nanotechnology and an A.I., STEM (voiced by Simon Maiden), implanted in Grey to not just "cure" his paralysis but also, when allowed to operate independently, turn Grey into a one-man vengeance puppet. The first scene of STEM's emancipation is a glorious invention of fight choreography and performance philosophy: Grey is literally possessed, doesn't really "invest" in what his body's doing to other bodies, and, at the end of the sequence, begs with the last not-dismembered bad guy to please not get up off the floor. It's a Buster Keaton gag, really--the stone-faced centre of a violent storm. Marshall-Green's performance reminded me of both Steve Martin's in All of Me and Jeff Fahey's in Body Parts. In a year that saw another instalment in Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible series, this here is the year's best action scene.