A brutal mugging leaves Grey Trace paralyzed in the hospital and his beloved wife dead. A billionaire inventor soon offers Trace a cure – an artificial intelligence implant called STEM that will enhance his body. Now able to walk, Grey finds that he also has superhuman strength and agility – skills he uses to seek revenge against the thugs who destroyed his life. Upgrade is a thrilling and hyper-violent vision of the future from the producers of ‘Get Out’ and ‘The Purge,’ and the creator of ‘Saw’ and ‘Insidious.’
Upgrade is set in an undisclosed future outside a first-world city where we meet Grey, a 20th-century nostalgist, who makes his living fixing up old cars. He spends most of his time at home, while his wife, Asha, who works for Cobolt, one of the futuristic technology companies that make human-computer augmentations and robotic limbs for wounded veterans. Grey asks his wife to assist him in returning one of the refurbished cars back to its owner, a famous technology innovator named Eron Keen, who is in charge of a rival company named Vessel. While at Eron’s house, he shows them his newest and greatest achievement, an AI chip that he calls STEM. It is then revealed that STEM can serve as an auxiliary brain.
At the end of the brief presentation, Grey, and Asha begin to head home. Along the way, their car self-driving car malfunctions and crashes at some homeless camp. They are then attacked when four unknown men arrive, shooting Asha and leaving Grey a quadriplegic when they severe his spine as he hopelessly watches his wife bleed out next to him, and die right before his eyes.
Grey returns home months later as a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic, now under the care of his mother Pamela. Eron offers Grey the ability to walk again by implanting STEM, but because it is experimental he cannot tell anyone. He accepts and regains the use of his body, but with this comes an unexpected side-effect. STEM can communicate with his new host as well as take over the body when necessary. Which makes for some great fight scenes and cinematic eye candy that is refreshing to behold. With this newfound power Grey decides to seek justice by finding the men who turned his life upside and killed his wife. Fisk the unremorseful villain stands in his way of vengeance and the truth with his own fantastic set of moves and augmentations. Detective Cortez has been assigned to Grey’s case but also begins to suspect that there may be something more to Grey than he is letting on.
I love how Upgrade balances action and humor, with a bit of sarcasm that Grey provides. The humor doesn’t always work quite as well, though he carries off most of those moments well enough. At times his delivery in certain scenes blurs the line between humor that fits with the tone of the rest of the movie and over-the-top camp. Eron also walks a similarly fine line between awkward tech genius and unbelievably strange. For the most part, though, the strangeness of both Grey and Eron fits within the world of Upgrade – a world very much like our own, but different enough to inspire a bizarre sense of realism.
Upgrade is not really a new concept but I personally thought it was very well done and well-acted. Some of the fight scenes were absolutely awesome too and very well choreographed. Since the world is fleshed out with others who are enhanced with biomechanical implants, Upgrade has a great deal of potential to dig into the questions of what it means to be human and whether mankind can keep up with ever-evolving technology. The movie seems to take a definitive stance on these questions that sci-fi creatives have mulled for decades, and it’s one that may prove divisive – but it’s also somewhat refreshing. In a genre as popular as sci-fi, Upgrade’s own reflections on well-worn concepts aren’t necessarily original, but they’re earned by the ending of the film. This movie almost earned a four-star rating, but that would mean that the film was near perfect…it was close.
Release Date: June 1, 2018
Runtime: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Fantasy
Studio: Universal Studios
Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson
MPAA Rated: R
Directors: Leigh Whannell
Reviewed by: Mad Hatter
Our Rating: 3.4 /5
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