So what is Upgrade? Just mindless, good fun. That’s how I’d describe Upgrade. Not that it doesn’t have a message to deliver or some sort of underlying commentary. But whatever it is, it’s not strong enough to overcome the ridiculousness of the entire premise and the over-the-top violence. I don’t mean this as an affront to the writing, acting, or directing. It just seems like this whole movie is a goofy excuse for some good old fashioned quotes and violence. For example, “While I may be state-of-the-art Grey, I’m not a Ninja.” No, I did not make that up.
So the idea behind Upgrade is some guy is severely injured in an unprovoked attack on himself and his wife. His wife is killed in the attack and he becomes a paraplegic. “Upgrade” refers to an experimental chip that is implanted in him after his attack. The entire movie is him using the chip to get revenge on his attackers. It’s really just that simple.
This movie does a little dance between B-grade 90s sci-fi and cyberpunk, but it lands more on the side of a big-budget B-movie. I’d put it somewhere near the same level as 1987’s RoboCop, and destine to be a cult classic.
And then there’s the Quentin Tarantino-level violence that falls somewhere between macabre and farcical, like this:
There are a few of points during the film in which the chip notices stuff that Grey doesn’t, like a police officer checking out Grey’s boots, but then later it doesn’t notice something because “that device has no digital signal”, or it can’t help him pick a lock because the lock is manual, yet it can take over his hand and turn him in to a laser printer. It just doesn’t make sense. In short, the movie frequently lacks any real continuity, but it’s actually quite consistent with its own continuity-defying universe, and I’m totally fine with that because it keeps me from taking everything in this movie too seriously.
Okay, so let’s just say there’s a message somewhere in between the over-the-top violence and the off-color humor. What would it be? My guess: Humanity’s growing reliance on technology and its unforeseen consequences.
If you’ve been following the autonomous self-driving car craze that’s been going on for the last 4 years, then you may have heard about some of the accidents that have occurred and at least one death. But one of the things we don’t talk about are what kind of crimes will self-driving vehicles create? If everyone had self-driving cars and goods were transferred via self-driving tractor trailers, I can imagine a world in which people wait for self-driving cars to stop, prevent the car from moving, and then rob the passenger inside it. Same thing with the tractor trailers; I can see a modern-day band of pirates stopping the self-driving transports in the middle of the dessert to liberate their haul. The authorities would be too far away to intervene. I’m sure there will be a whole new set of strict laws to attempt to deter these types of crimes and eventually self-driving drones to police us all.
At least twice in Upgrade, a self-driving car is used to hurt someone by hacking its control system, commandeering it, and forcing it to crash.
But really, there’s no need to go deep with this movie. It’s something you’d expect to discover late at night while browsing your AI generated recommendation list like a good little parasitic human. It’s thoroughly enjoyable and sometimes it’s just fun to let a movie be what it is.