It’s not my habit to research movies before I go to review screenings. But just before the lights dim, I find myself regretting it. Movie buddy Nick’s just told me that the trailer’s full of gore. I’m also wondering why I’m voluntarily putting myself through a film from the same creators as Saw and Insidious. This fact would maybe be an A++ for someone else…just not me. Last gory movie I saw? Scream. That counts, right?
So, before we get into how much fake blood there actually was, the plotline: Mechanic Grey Trace has a charmed life. Gorgeous wife, perfect job and to be honest, he isn’t too unpleasant on the eye himself. The only hitch is that Grey’s a bit of a technophobe. Which is a problem if you live in the futuristic environment this movie’s set in. Think phones no bigger than earpieces, auto-driven cars that talk to you and smart furniture you can check your messages on.
All seems pretty peachy until a wrong turn leads Grey and wife Asha to a bad part of town. They become victims of a violent mugging. Asha is shot dead and Grey is left a quadriplegic with the remains of a life that continues to spiral downward. Enter Eron, the super-awkward billionaire boy genius. Eron offers him a second chance with an experimental procedure, a procedure which implants a chip called STEM into Grey’s body and renders him totally mobile again.
Now let me take a moment to say that the scenes leading up to this point are far from perfect. The character of Eron takes awkward to a level that warrants some laugh-snorts from the audience. Like you’re not sure if it was intentional or not. I mean we’re talking someone who has an abnormal attachment to a simulated rain cloud. There’s no explanation as to why he loves this thing so much. It’s just there. And he can’t take his eyes off it. And then there’s Grey’s relationship with Asha. Are these guys newlyweds? Why are they so freaking cute with each other? I get that we’re supposed to see how much Grey misses by not having Asha around, but the vibe they give off says more “teenage romance” than “married couple”.
That said, it’s all forgiven when Grey has his first realization of what STEM can do. It turns out that STEM has a bit of a personality of its own, paired with abilities that go beyond Grey’s imagination. Watching Grey and STEM working together to fend off an attacker was like watching a flat piece of dough rising to become a fully fledged bread loaf. That is to say it was very satisfying. Look, I happen to like cooking and kitchen analogies are my jam. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that all of Upgrade‘s action sequences are pretty tasty. The fight choreography was almost like watching a dance (this is a good thing, just in case you’re wondering). Logan Marshall-Green who plays Grey does beautifully bewildered expressions while STEM goes to town on bad guys. The camera work is slick; the soundtrack pumping. It’s what you want in an action sequence.
As he delves deeper into his wife’s murder, Grey becomes aware that he isn’t the only “upgraded” individual. His quest for revenge is additionally complicated by a few other things. There’s a cop who wonders why a supposed quadriplegic like Grey keeps turning up at crime scenes. And then there’s STEM itself. STEM’s mysterious agenda injects a bit of food for thought as to how much technology should be ruling our lives. That said, I don’t know how much of that was intentional because the movie proceeds with as much sensitivity as a two-tonne truck. Stereotypical bad guys appear. Glaring plot holes get overlooked. I’m never clear on how STEM actually works. Is it on a wifi network? Can it control all nearby digital devices? Can it see something if Grey isn’t looking in that direction? I have no idea. It just isn’t consistent enough to make a call.
As for the gore, I’m happy to report that I only covered my eyes twice. Yeah, there’re some fleshy bits, but overall it feels more like a superhero story than a bloodfest. And despite all the plot holes, weird characters and inconsistencies, Upgrade is still fast-paced and entertaining enough for this to be something I’d recommend. Want a deep provoking commentary on how computers are taking over the world? Go somewhere else. Want a fun action flick? You got it.