Upgrade is the latest love letter to the phenomenon of 80s action movies. In this movie, we are taken to some time in a distant future where we meet a man named Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) who just witnessed a gang murder his wife (Melanie Vallejo) and permanently crippled him. After this incident, a young but intelligent boy Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) offers Grey the ability to function once more with a tiny piece of technology known as STEM. Soon after receiving the implant, Grey realizes that STEM can talk (voiced by Simon Maiden) and is incredibly efficient, recognizing small details that the police missed from the crime scene. This starts Grey on a journey to hunt down those who have took his wife, with Detective Cortez (Betty Gabriel) watching him closely. Thus, we embark on an hour and a half adventure filled with all sorts of blood, gore, and action.
The action scenes in this movie are absolutely impeccable. It’s been a while since I’ve seen fight scenes that are crafted this uniquely. STEM typically is in control of Grey when he is fighting someone, so all of his moves look as unnatural as possible; he looks like a robot that doesn’t fully understand its functions. It’s a fast-paced but coherent and beautifully-shot movie. With the first fight Grey gets into with a gang member, you can see how much care they put into crafting these scenes, and it only continues with each subsequent fight scene. Plus, you get a good dosage of blood and gore through these fights, so it’s pretty much everything you can hope for in an action movie.
Each character has their own personality and brings something special to the movie, even if they little more than archetypes. You have minor characters like the bartender at Old Bones who brings in a classic style of 80s comedy, bringing some levity to the film’s darkness. Grey is a pretty typical protagonist for this sort of movie, but comes to life when he is equipped with STEM. STEM is truly a masterful character, despite being a small piece of technology. It’s intelligent and has an amazing dry humor delivered in monotone. Characters such as Cortez, Eron Keen, and Fisk (Benedict Hardie) exhibit great character in the movie, especially as it races to the end.
The sets are fantastic, and unlike many movies that take place in a futuristic societies, most of the places we visit are very much “normal,” apart from some, say, Eron Keen’s home and some vehicles. Then you had your dark areas: neighborhoods that just never caught up with technology. Old Bones is very much like any other gross bar you’ve been to. The apartment building is a basic rundown apartment. This gap between the advancement of technology and the reality that many will simply not be able to keep up is something I feel that many dystopian-future films fail to address. Yeah, Blade Runner does this to some extent, but not in the same way as Upgrade, which is worth respecting.
The acting is sometimes shaky, which is really the only thing I can level against Upgrade. The beginning is a little weird. Grey’s wife Asha only ever refers to him as “husband,” which makes me uncomfortable; even though I like Eron Keen as a character, and that that character is supposed to be an awkward recluse, it really seems as if he might be reading off a teleprompter in the early portions of the film. His performance is a bit too awkward to believe at first, but once the plot kicks in, the issue improves immensely.
The ending makes up for absolutely everything. It manages to tackle the fear of technology in ways I feel films like Ready Player One couldn’t possibly address. In fact, it does a better job at showcasing the horrors of being stuck in VR in a single scene than Ready Player One did in two hours and twenty minutes. Even more than that, the film showcases both the positives and negatives of a world remarkably advanced by technology. The films ending brings this all together and reminds us to be careful with what we plot next. I am not going to spoil it here, but I will say that the final scene alone is worth a full ticket price.
Upgrade is one of the best action movies to come out in a very long time. It has that 80s charm to it while also presenting us something fresh. The beginning of the film simply has to be endured, but it’s entirely worth it. I never expected to love Upgrade as much as I do. The fact that this move was made on a $3-5 million budget and looks better than most, if not all the movies I’ve seen this year thus far, is incredible. Definitely make time to see this one.
VERDICT: I went into Upgrade expecting a fun action flick. I got much more than I could have imagined.
- Alex Brown
"Curtains" is where you can catch movie reviews by the Metal Lifestyle staff.