Set in the near future, technology controls nearly all aspects of life. But when Grey Trace, a self-identified technophobe, has his world turned upside down, his only hope for revenge is an experimental computer-chip implant called STEM.
Upgrade opens with an introduction to cowboy-type Grey Trace (Marshall-Green) toying with an old, souped-up car. We are to immediately understand that his wife has a culturally common obsession with technology that is not shared by her husband. They quickly end up in her modern self-driving car when they crash; the wife is killed by a band of hooligans who arrive on the scene, and Grey is paralyzed.
In this age of technology, Grey’s quadriplegia is remedied with robotic arms; however, the theme of AI taking over becomes apparent when a colleague of Grey’s offers him the restoration of his former capabilities and even more by implanting in his spine a spider-like robot. The innovative, cyborgian ideas brought to life in this film—such as contact lenses that direct a surgeon’s every move, machine guns built into characters’ arms, airborne miniature robots that kill from within, and implants that can cooperate with one’s brain—drive the excitement and suspense when Grey works diligently with his implant called STEM to track down and eliminate his wife’s killers.
There is a comedic element to this movie, delivered by Grey, and especially in relationship with STEM. The irony of these light-hearted moments, precariously balanced with STEM’s impending threat to usurp control of Grey, is cleverly realized in the midst of some graphic fight scenes that almost always end in brutal deaths. The opportunity to witness a human struggle with AI is unique to this narrative as we see Grey demand justice, but actively rebel against STEM’s demands for the total subjugation and even death of humans.
The action is complete with a high-speed chase that is dictated by computers and takes the opportunity to highlight once again the differences between machines controlled by humans, such as the old-school car Grey drives, and the threat of advanced technology.
With some clever twists in the end, this film delivers decently for those thrilled by dystopic storylines, permeated by the fear of robotics. The idea that our impending struggle ultimately pits one type of mind against another brings this warning home to roost as we consider the logical conclusions to our increasingly automated world, which sets us up for an inevitable “upgrade” in the form of a sequel.
Due to graphic violence involving weapons, attempted suicide, and salty language/swearing, this film is not Dove Approved.