It has been an interesting two years for original science fiction movies. With films like Blade Runner 2049 and Annihilation, a high bar is being set. While it doesn’t reach the level of those two films, Upgrade is a nice addition to the recent slate of high-tech and creative science fiction films.
Upgrade feels like a very violent Alex Garland movie. Garland is the man who directed Annihilation and before that Ex Machina. In much the same way that Ex Machina showed the dangers that technology can bring in the wrong hands, Upgrade follows the same path.
A good example for people wondering if Upgrade is up their alley is to know that the movie is like a feature-length version of a Black Mirror episode.
Leigh Whannell may always be linked to the Saw franchise that he helped create, but he has also always been interested in technology. In Upgrade, Whannell brought that interest as the writer and director.
Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) is a man who lives in a future where technology has taken over everything but he still cares about getting his hands dirty. In a world where all cars are self-driving, he still works on cars and sells them to people who still love the classics.
One day, Grey and his wife Asha take the latest car he refurbished to a buyer — a genius named Eron Keen. It turns out that Eron has his own tech company that is a direct rival to that of Asha and he seems very arrogant, albeit on a slightly autistic level.
On the way home in Asha’s self-driving car, the AI goes offline and they crash. As they pull themselves out, another car pulls up and a group of men get out and abduct them. One of them murders Asha in front of Grey and then they shock him in the shoulder blades with a cattle prod, leaving him as a quadriplegic.
When Eron learns of the accident, he offers Grey — a technophobe — something. He developed a technology called Stem, which he can insert into Grey’s spine and it will allow Grey to walk and get around again.
After the surgery, Stem actually communicates with Grey in his mind and can take over when allowed to basically turn him into a machine with rapid reflexes and fighting skills. With this new tech, Grey sets out to get revenge against the men who killed his wife, all while trying to hide his actions from Eron, who demanded secrecy and a police detective investigating the case.
The movie works as a John Wick-styled revenge flick, albeit with a killer who has superhuman skills thanks to an AI doing his fighting for him. However, it also works as a morality tale of technology slowly taking over everything — and Grey soon has to learn this for himself firsthand.
The violence in this movie is very gratuitous but it is shot in a way that is just superbly orchestrated. When Grey has to fight others who are technologically advanced, the movie just starts to soar.
The end of Upgrade raises this movie to another level completely. This is a movie — much like Ex Machina — that is not afraid to lay it all out there and let the story go where it needs to go — happy endings be damned.
That, honestly, is the best science fiction, and Upgrade is right up there with the better efforts. It may not match up to Annihilation, but Upgrade should give fans of the genre a nice foll0w-up in a world where great original sci-fi is not always easy to come by.