Gory, inventive, and clunky at times, Upgrade is a sci-fi throwback to the Paul Verhoeven bloodbaths RoboCop and Total Recall, which it's obviously in love with. A movie in full throttle, filled with stylized lensing and editing to match its combustible revenge tale, action junkies should be salivating for this one.
Like Verhoeven's two fan favorites, Upgrade tells the story of a normal guy who loses everything only to have a corporation offer him hope in the form of new tech. In the near-future, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) is a technologically wary mechanic whose life is destroyed when a team of killers murders his wife, and leaves him a quadriplegic.
In the aftermath, suicidal Grey accepts an invitation from a client, Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson), a babyfaced Zucker-clone, to become Keen's lab rat. Injected with an experimental A.I. implant called STEM, Grey is able to move his limbs once again. However, one catch: STEM can also control Grey's body itself, a fact the mechanic discovers soon enough.
After signing an NDA, Grey agrees to continue to act paralyzed in public. Alone, however, he gets to know the new HAL 9000-like voice in his head. STEM reviews footage from the day Grey was injured and discovers the attackers all have bionic weapon arms. Hmmmmm. Grey and his new invisible friend track down one of the guys which is when STEM takes over mid-fight and Grey becomes an unstoppable killing "machine," or at least half a machine. He dispatches the first attacker brutally, and the hunt is on for the rest.
One of the strangest (and funniest) details in Upgrade is how the filmmakers portray STEM taking over Grey's body. Wide-eyed in shock at what he's doing, Grey is merely a helpless bystander watching his body tear other people apart. Marshall-Green shows a unique dexterity managing these scenes, and he's helped by director Leigh Whannell's perpetually dynamic camera decisions.
Behind the dead bodies and rivers of blood, Upgrade also has a sharp social subtext. As today's society moves ever closer to living with artificial intelligence, never mind the Singularity, our bodies will become increasingly useless. (Self-driving cars play a big role in Upgrade.) Then our minds will. Then the machines will take over completely — a frightening thought at the center of countless science fiction stories. In context, Upgrade can be viewed as a cautionary tale. It's not an original one, but it is effective.