Upgrade (2018)
Upgrade (2018)

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min.

Release Date: June 1st, 2018 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Leigh Whannell Actors: Logan Marshall-Green, Melanie Vallejo, Harrison Gilbertson, Benedict Hardie, Richard Cawthorne, Christopher Kirby, Richard Anastasios, Linda Cropper, Betty Gabriel, Simon Maiden

 


 

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n a fascinating first-of-its-kind, the production companies and title of the film are spoken rather than printed onscreen. It’s fitting, even though the story is set only in the near future, as opposed to the far future of space operas and space travel adventures. Here, however, everything is controlled by voice-activation and voice-controlled smart-devices – from cars, to interactive walls, to computer screens embedded in virtually every surface, to communications systems integrated throughout houses.

Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) and his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) take a trip down to a friend’s house – Grey in his recently refurbished classic car, Asha in her self-driving, fully electronic, talking vehicle. Pal Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) lives in a massive subterraneous compound, where he researches his company’s latest invention, STEM, a computer chip and artificial intelligence that Keen boasts is a better brain. “It can do things that will benefit society.”

On their way home, the Traces’ car encounters some internal errors, causing a detour into an old part of town called New Crown, where people still live in extreme poverty, shacked up in tents. Their car flips over, triggering a call to the authorities, while media drones encircle the area, but a gang of robbers beats the police to the scene. Although a motive doesn’t seem apparent, the masked men shoot both of the Traces, killing Asha and damaging Grey’s spine – permanently confining him to a wheelchair.

Three months later, Grey is a quadriplegic, dependent on robotic arms to prepare his meals and help with daily tasks. He’s distraught, particularly with the ineffectiveness of the police investigation, led by Detective Cortez (Betty Gabriel), but he intermittently clings to the hope of bringing Asha’s killers to justice. When his depression leads to suicide attempts, Eron stops by the hospital, offering Grey a second chance – through the use of his STEM chip to fix the damage to Grey’s spine. The catch, however, is that it must be their secret, surgically implanted away from the prying eyes of governmental regulations and the press.

“Upgrade” displays a “Blade Runner” vibe at the start, though the crowded metropolis of that contemporary classic hasn’t quite been reached – as if it will take a couple of decades before extreme levels of overpopulation send communities into the skies. Here, with advanced technology and futuristic vehicles, there’s more of a “Minority Report” feel in the production design. The cars don’t fly, but the science-fiction components are unmistakable. Interestingly, once Grey goes through with his enhancement procedure, the AI chip – equipped with a voice of its own, speaking inside his head – aids in sleuthing, allowing Grey to become a state-of-the-art detective himself. Plus, he’s somewhat superhuman.

“You now have full control again, Grey.” With Leigh Whannell (the writer of “Saw,” “Dead Silence,” and “Insidious”) at the helm, the intricacies and ethical considerations of artificial intelligence are quickly abandoned in favor of action, violence, and gore. Biomechanical implants contribute to gruesome autopsy and surgery sequences, but it’s the martial arts fighting that shoots to the forefront, especially when humor is utilized abundantly. A wealth of comedy works its way into the bloodshed, making the grisly imagery more palatable.

“I no longer need your permission to act.” There’s also a remarkable amount of cleverness in this dark, chaotic vision of the future, blending believable technology with fantastical notions of science-fiction. Body-hacking and other fusions of biology and machinery, along with manipulating computer coding and remotely taking over autonomous systems seem reasonable; microscopic weaponry (nanobots) and bionic eyes that can play back footage or see through walls are more farfetched. Nevertheless, the creativity contributes toward over-the-top bodily destruction right alongside innovative interpretations of technology run amok and toying with senses of reality, borrowing from staples like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “The Matrix,” “Inception,” “I, Robot,” and more (as well as from popular but poorly executed works like “Elysium” and “Ex Machina”). At the same time, however, it undoubtedly generates fresh ideas, which will surely be conducive to subsequent sci-fi tales.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10