I don’t know why I kept avoiding this movie for five straight years. It ticks all my favorite boxes. Upgrade is a cyberpunk science fiction movie offering an entertaining story set in a near future. It’s also a revenge movie with several well-choreographed action sequences. I vaguely recall watching it as it came out, high and unimpressed with that heavy-handed opening. It felt like it was pandering to the general population too much. We follow Grey, a car mechanic and a technophobe living in a world where almost everyone has embraced the future. Including his wife Asha who’s working for a big corporation working on enhancing humans.
As you can probably guess, Grey will have to change his ways if he wants to survive in such an environment. After a rocky start, the movie slowly but surely got better and better. Moreover, the pacing got faster and there was this humorous undertone loosing up the tense atmosphere. So, just give it a chance and I think it won’t disappoint you. After all, there are so few Cyberpunk movies that if you’re a fan of a genre, Upgrade is practically a must-see. It’s written and directed by Leigh Whannell, a very talented Australian guy who’s also an actor.
You might remember him as Adam from the original Saw movie, based on his script. He went on to direct Insidious: Chapter 3 and The Invisible Man. While we’re talking about other movies, I simply have to mention Venom. Not only do the two leads look alike, Tom Hardy and Logan Marshall-Green, but the story is also quite similar. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention RoboCop, especially the 2014 iteration. Mostly because it offers a similar vision of the future and a general visual style. With that out of the way, it’s time for a short summary.
Welcome to the world of tomorrow! It is the year of our lord Cthulhu 2046 and the world is on the cusp of something new. Several biotech corporations are competing to be the first ones to “upgrade” humans with technological parts. However, none of this interests Grey Trace, a man who loves restoring old cars and selling them to collectors. His latest client is Eron Keen, one of the scientists at the forefront of human augmentation. Grey quickly leaves his house, not knowing that in the next fifteen minutes, his whole life is about to change forever.
I do find it funny how Grey is able to draw the line where the “good” technology ends and the bad one begins. Although I will have to admit that that 1971 Dodge Challenger he’s been working on looks fucking awesome. It also seems a bit dishonest of him to trash this brave new world while living in his luxurious mansion. I absolutely loved it when he was humbled by Jamie, our resident hacker. However, I don’t want to pick on this movie too much. Upgrade is one of those science fiction movies meant to entertain you and offer you a glimpse into our future. Nothing more and nothing less.
As such, I’ll say it accomplished its mission with flying colors. It feels like an eighties movie when you look at the plot, action, and general atmosphere. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Although I fully admit I’m an eighties guy. Imbued with that spirit, the production team totally nailed all the tech in the movie. The design of the futuristic cars, sets, and other gimmicks was excellent. And realistic, something that can also be said about all the “computer stuff”. It’s so good to see Linux in action and someone talking about rootkits and stuff.
When it comes to the cast, everybody did a good job. Logan Marshall-Green was a good choice for the lead as he’s not so perfect as Hardy. I also liked the decision to cast Benedict Hardie as the main bad guy. In a world where you can use augmentation to make yourself faster and stronger, you don’t need muscles. Additionally, he looks really fucking creepy with those mustaches. Perhaps Harrison Gilbertson who plays the genius inventor Eron was the only one who was miscast. I think they were going for that Ex Machina vibe.
Upgrade shows that you don’t have to have a big budget to make a good science fiction movie. I still can’t believe they achieved all of this with just $5 million. On that note, you should know that there will be a couple of graphic scenes. They looked really nasty and realistic but this is nothing you can’t handle. Finally, if you’re looking for movies like Upgrade I suggest you check out Alita: Battle Angel. It’s more action-packed, not as dark, and features the same cyberpunk elements. Or you could always go straight to the source and read William Gibson’s masterpiece Neuromancer.
Director: Leigh Whannell
Writer: Leigh Whannell
Cast: Logan Marshall-Green, Melanie Vallejo, Benedict Hardie, Harrison Gilbertson, Betty Gabriel
Fun Facts: The original title of the movie was STEM. Additionally, although the story is supposedly taking place in the US, Upgrade was actually filmed in Australia. Not only the writer and director Leigh Whannell is from Australia but it was also cheaper to film there.