Upgrade and Venom are both 2018 films that cover similar material. A man must confront, wrestle, and come to terms with another entity inside his body. How these two films go about that premise, journey, and conclusion is what makes them unique. To make matters even more fun, the leads of each film are well documented lookalikes. With Upgrade available on home release and Venom in theaters now, lets match theses films head-to-head against each other and see how they perform in various categories. This is a Reel Rumble and there are SPOILERS BELOW!
Round 1: STEM vs. Symbiote
In Upgrade, STEM (Simon Maiden) is an experimental medical implant that is a functional AI working in tandem with the brain. For the main character Grey (Logan Marshall-Green), a quadriplegic, it is implanted in his spine, allowing Grey to utilize his limbs again. STEM also speaks in an artificial voice directly into Grey's mind. He offers to assist Grey in enacting revenge for his wife's murder; she died in the same incident that left him wheelchair-bound. In their first confrontation with a suspect, STEM offers to take complete control of Grey's body to defend themselves when the suspect fights back. He insists he must be given permission to act on Grey's behalf and only does so when Grey authorizes it. While initially compliant with Grey's instructions and wishes, STEM soon starts to take matters into his own hands. The two end up at odds with one another and, through manipulation, STEM gains complete control of Grey's body. Trying to resist STEM causes Grey's mind to snap, resulting in his existence in a mental fantasy where his wife is still alive.
The symbiotes in Venom are an alien race that infect a shuttle returning to Earth. They are brought to the Life Foundation and are allowed to infect humans to see if they can form a symbiotic relationship. Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is investigating the Life Foundation for their suspicious practices. He becomes infected by one of these symbiotes, Venom, while trying to rescue a test subject whom he recognizes. Eddie becomes sick and starts hearing Venom's voice in his mind. When attacked by Life Force security and later a SWAT team, Venom takes complete control of Eddie to defend the two, without the need of permission. Venom's appetite also causes him to feed on Eddie if he doesn't have enough victims. Naturally, this causes the two to be distrustful of one another, at least initially. By the end of the film, though, they come to a mutual understanding. Eddie is able to maintain control and function as a regular human being while allowing Venom to achieve his needs as well.
Both these films deal with shady organizations experimenting with body enhancement. STEM is technology, while Venom represents bioengineering. Overall, Upgrade provides a better story and cautionary tale. Venom is still enjoyable, and perhaps has the happier ending of the two films, but it is not as relatable and takes a while to get going. Critics certainly responded to Upgrade better.
Round 2: Logan vs. Tom
As the nature of STEM is a medical implant, Logan Marshall-Green does all the acting in portraying his character while utilizing STEM and while not. His initial confusion at the discovery of another voice in his head is subdued and relatable. While learning to walk and move again, Marshall-Green is rigid and robotic in his movements. These fade away and then resurge with full intensity as STEM first relinquishes and later takes full control. Marshall-Green humorously portrays both dismay and aggression during STEM's takedown of their first suspect. As he begins to relish what he is able to accomplish, we see him get cocky, which is also humorous. When it all backfires, Marshall-Green sufficiently embodies both a broken man and an AI in full control of a human body.
Unfortunately for Logan, he can't top Tom Hardy. Hardy's portrayal of the onset of sickness and madness due to being infected and hearing a voice in his head is top-notch. He stumbles around his apartment, rambles on the phone, and yells in frustration with all the believability of a man on the edge. His performance has been compared to the likes of Jim Carrey or Nicolas Cage, but it doesn’t even come close to those levels of infamous scene-chewing. Though CGI carries the weight of the Venom symbiote, particularly in the action sequences, Tom does provide the voice for Venom. In this sense he too is playing dual roles in the film, truly talking to himself. Tom's character uses humor as a coping mechanism against Venom, and earns multiple laughs. Venom has his own amazing lines as well.
While both performances are noteworthy, Tom Hardy takes this round. His range far more is more expansive and expressive. Marshall-Green certainly does well enough in his own right, but he's a tad more muted than was ideal. Tom Hardy walked the fine line he needed to, and his performance is certainly being talked about.
Round 3: Whannell vs. Fleischer
Director Leigh Whannell comes from a background in acting, and Upgrade is his second directorial outing, his first being Insidious: Chapter 3. Through BH Tilt (a division of Blumhouse Productions), Whannell's film plays mostly as an action thriller. The fight scenes highlight the choreography of STEM's fighting prowess and show some gory kills. In the quieter moments, the focus is on the dynamic between Grey and STEM. These scenes are where the film can lose some traction, as the power struggle between the two isn't always executed cleanly. The eventual downward spiral of Grey's agency and the film's conclusion sell the horrific turn of events within the story.
Ruben Fleischer directs Venom, a Sony picture in association with Marvel. Before this, his most successful outing was Zombieland. While some were hoping for an R-rated film in the spirit of Logan and Deadpool, Fleischer manages to do the Venom character justice in a PG-13 setting. As a result, a wider audience of fans can enjoy some superb sci-fi action. The more extravagant fight scenes are a tad difficult to follow, but clever editing/framing keeps the more gruesome kills off-screen, including Venom's tendency to want to eat people.
While neither director is a household name, each delivers a solid film for their studios. Both juggle action and horror, but Venom has the better balance of the two. Fleischer's directorial experience shows and gives him the advantage in this final round.
Match Winner: Venom 2-1
While Upgrade certainly delivers a unique and interesting story, it can't beat the outstanding performance of Hardy and the experience Fleischer has behind the camera. It's still early days for Venom on Flickchart, and only time will tell if it can climb past Upgrade on the global chart.
I have Venom at #110 and Upgrade at #319 on my own Flickchart.
Andrew is a college dropout working the fulltime retail grind. In his free time, he enjoys at least one film a day, with a side of video games. Movies became a passion of his after discovering Inception and subsequently falling in love with Christopher Nolan's films. He is ready and willing to talk movies, but don't be shocked if he hasn't gotten around to seeing one of your favorite classics yet.