One of my favorite experiences when seeing a new movie is going in thinking you have the plot figured out and then it surprises you by going in a completely different direction. When this works, it can be one of the best aspects of seeing movies, but when it doesn’t, it can be disappointing and difficult to shake off.
Synopsis: Set in the near-future, technology controls nearly all aspects of life. But when Grey, a self-identified technophobe, has his world turned upside down, his only hope for revenge is an experimental computer chip implant called Stem. (Rovi)
Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Melanie Vallejo, and Richard Anastasios
Writer: Leigh Whannell
Director: Leigh Whannell
Rating: R (United States)
Running Time: 95mins
Thankfully, Upgrade succeeds in surprising by appearing just familiar enough to where you believe to have it all figured out only for it to drop a twist at the last possible moment. The story centers around Grey Trace (Marshall-Green), a man who’s seemingly stuck in the more simple ways of life while surrounded by advanced technology that involves self-driving cars, police drones, and bionic implants within humans. All of this sets the stage for what Upgrade’s trailer has already revealed; After being assaulted and left a quadriplegic, Grey is the recipient of, STEM, a technological implant that controls his motor functions and discernment giving him the chance to function again. This takes an intriguing turn when STEM begins to aid Grey as he searches for his wife’s killers and begins uncovering a larger conspiracy unknowingly attached to the both of them.
It’s this unfolding narrative that allows the movie to zig when you expect it to zag and create a fresh experience on a somewhat overused trope. On the surface, it simply appears as a revenge thriller that offers up some exciting fight scenes mixed with comical interactions between Grey and STEM as they learn to work together. And while some of that does, in fact, occur, the story chooses to dive much deeper into a more complicated web of whodunnit than previously expected. This extra effort made Upgrade an even better experience and its narrative decision-making allowed it to move beyond just being a good time in the theater and become a well-crafted movie that is more than what is being advertised.
Despite its surprises, Upgrade still has several setbacks, the foremost being its unevenly paced second act. During this time, Grey struggles to come to terms with the lines that he has crossed in order to find his wife’s killer. Just before this, the film spends a considerable amount of energy and valuable screen time on showing you life both with Grey’s wife, Asha (Vallejo), and without her so that when he reaches the point of no return the audience is already conditioned to believe that this will be one of the easiest decisions he has to make.
It’s Grey who seems to go back and forth between fully committing to doing what’s necessary against her murderers that the story feels uncertain of where to go next. This stalled the flow of the movie only slightly but still enough that it was noticeable. The only other setback worth mentioning is the lack of depth surrounding Asha and Grey’s relationship. We meet Asha and lose her in the same day and so we do not get to spend enough time with both of them to really feel the impact of loss and mourning once it occurs. This is not a major deterrent towards the overall story, but it could’ve easily been just as effective through flashbacks and only see Asha through Grey’s memory of her prior to when we first join him.
Upgrade was a solid watch that just as it seemed that it could be fit it into a certain stereotypical box, it manages to surprise over and over again. From the trailers and synopsis, this movie appeared rather straightforward before stepping foot into the theater but the end result allowed for a fresh, yet familiar, story to unfold in an exciting way. The entirety of the film can also get brutal at times which is equal parts incredible and haunting and is best left to experience on your own. In short, there were some pretty amazing deaths! Upgrade came along at the perfect time as it was a movie where you can turn your brain off and simply enjoy while also becoming something much more that, a great theater experience and wiped away any prior fear of buyer’s remorse.