"Upgrade" is one of those movies that feels like it was lost, found in a can somewhere, and "upgraded" (yep... went there) for modern audiences. While watching it, I couldn't help but feel as if I was watching an old "Twilight Zone" episode. It feels like one of those classic B-movies from the 80s (think Robo-Cop or anything from John Carpenter) that isn't trying to be taken seriously but also makes you care about what's happening.
The film centers around a mechanic named Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green), a man who doesn't belong in the era in which he's living. While he works on old engines at home all day, his wife commutes in an automated car and works for a tech company. The movie establishes right away that nearly every piece of technology is now automated, and is tracked by the government and greedy tech companies. Grey sees a problem with this, as he believes more in things he can control, while his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) thinks that computers generally make life better.
Eventually, disaster strikes, as their self-driving car malfunctions and crashes in a seedy part of town. Some bad guys pull the couple out of the overturned car, murder Asha, and leave Grey a quadriplegic. Grey wakes up in the hospital; powerless to do anything about the death of his wife due to not being able to walk or use his arms, and is offered a solution: a computer chip implant that will bridge the gap between his brain and the rest of his body, enabling him to walk again. He reluctantly agrees and ends up taking us on one hell of a fun ride as he tracks down the men who killed his wife with the aid of STEM, the computer chip/AI which he quickly discovers can speak to him in his head.
The film handles the classic fears associated with AI well enough, but where it really shines is in its action sequences. Every action scene in the movie is filmed in what I can only describe as "the essence of slick." Grey is not a fighter, but when he gives control of his motor functions over to STEM he becomes a killing machine, and we don't just get that feeling from watching the violence taking place on screen. The perspective also shifts from your typical handheld camera work to a smooth, machine-like view of what's happening in the given situation. It's unlike anything I have seen in quite some time and is one of those technical decisions that add to the quality of the product on screen.
The other bump this movie gets is from Logan Marshall-Green. As Grey, he puts on a performance that perfectly bounces back and forth between being tragic and goofy. During the first act of the film, when he's mourning his wife's death and can't move, he plays the role of the main character in an incredibly somber manner. This man is sad, and he plays it as serious as a heart attack. Later in the film, when STEM is controlling him, he stops playing the role straight. Grey is disgusted by the violent acts the AI within him is committing (the film is very bloody), and Marshall-Green shows it by putting a goofy/disgusted look on his face (every case of this made me smile). He manages to do this while moving around robotically (mimicking the camera work mentioned above). It was an exceptional performance that I believe genre-film fans will remember for years to come.
Nostalgia seems to be in right now, and in that way, I think "Upgrade" has come at the perfect time. Those of you who like television or films that ask interesting questions, and sometimes give terrifying answers, should rush out and see this film immediately. It manages to work as both a highly intelligent Sci-Fi film and a dumb (but self-aware) popcorn/action flick.