Humanity’s relationship with technology is one that’s fraught with contradictions, hope and misery. It’s no wonder that in art humanity tends to explore that relationship with technology and its erosion of our ethics and sense of self. Cinema in particular has multi-generational examples from Modern Times, to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Robocop, and Ex Machina. What Leigh Whannell wrote and directed with Upgrade is in keeping with that tradition, and it takes that suspicion of technology to interesting places.
Upgrade’s premise is a fairly familiar one. Gray Trace is an analog man in a digital world. 9ne who loses his wife Asha and becomes a quadriplegic in an attack . He then accepts a do-anything chip called STEM from Zuckerburg-esque tech billionaire Eron in order to find out who ruined his life. That sort of plot is run of the mill for a sci-fi film (or really for action movies in general) of this nature, Whannell’s vision of the future is a little less grimy than that of Robocop. It’s a more sterilized future, but with distinct divisions between extreme wealth and extreme poverty. One where self-driving cars and cybernetics exist in tandem with shanty towns. The world is one that’s pretty well-thought out, however the same cannot be said for the story itself.
While it is entertaining to a point: the story is easy to trace pretty early on and after a point is predictable. Whannell at least knows how to tell a competent and entertaining action story, but there’s only so much action sequences can do to smooth over overall issues. The other majorproblem is that Logan Marshall-Green: the center the film rests on him. But he just does not work as a lead here. His performance swings wildly between serious business and him being in on the joke. Either way, the movie doesn’t do so well when it centers mostly around the character of Gray. His co-leads aren’t much better in that regard. Simon Maiden gives the same more or less subdued performance every actor has given for an AI going back to JARVIS in Iron Man. Eron and Cortez occupy the stock anti-social tech billionaire and suspicious cop roles and stay there for the duration of the film. It hinders some of the impact of what’s actually an expressive look on Whannell’s part on the destructive effects of unrestricted technology married to mankind’s capacity of being inconsiderate of the humanity of others.
Overall, Upgrade is an enjoyable movie. If nothing else, there’s an entertaining action film. Worth a matinee or Netflix screening certainly, though not one I’d necessarily recommend to someone expecting something at the upper echelons. Which is a shame, since there’s a great movie filled with more well-rounded edges that was bursting beneath the surface of this film.
3 STEMS out of 5