Film Review: Upgrade Exceeds Expectations

by Tito W. James

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.

The SciFi world of Upgrade  is grounded and uncannily believable. Everything is touch screen or voice controlled; drones patrol the city skies, and cars drive themselves. The film could be a feature-length Black Mirror episode, just with more action.
This near-future aspect is more than an aesthetic choice. Upgrade’s protagonist, Grey acts as a mouthpiece for contemporary concerns about a digital age where men’s roles are being replaced by machines. Grey’s wife Asha acts as the breadwinner in their household with a high-paying tech job. It’s these little touches that make Upgrade more than just a “fun, violent action movie.”
When Grey is upgraded with Stem he’s “powerful” but not a “power fantasy.” To Grey, having technology in control of his life, let alone his body, is a living nightmare. Grey is a spectator to the action just as much as the audience.
Though the trailer may make you think otherwise, Upgrade is not wall-to-wall action. The drama and character development are compelling and I never felt bored during the non-action scenes. When the action does happen, it’s a trip. The steady camera follows the motion with perfect fluidity, adding to the clarity of the fights while also adding a robotic feeling to Grey’s movements. My only complaint is that the kickass music from the trailer doesn’t appear in the film, but the soundtrack is still superb.
Upgrade represents everything I love about indie filmmaking. The concept is tight and focused and it uses the audience’s expectations to surprise them. There was a wonderful moment in my theatrical viewing when Grey and the audience simultaneously reacted to the first kill. Everyone lost their minds and started screaming, cringing, and laughing. By the end of the film, the entire crowd cheered and applauded.
Upgrade is currently playing in theaters.

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