3 (out of 4)
After starting off like an 80s B-movie with 21st century gloss, Upgrade, as its title implies, becomes increasingly interesting and engaging as it progresses. Warping body horror, action thriller and dystopian sci-fi elements into its own cocktail of low-budget cool, Upgrade is quaint but sophisticated. It's worthy of standing toe-to-toe with many tentpole summer blockbusters.
Logan Marshall-Green shows off extraordinary range as everyman Grey, whose a loving wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) is killed in the same assault that leaves him a quadriplegic. The future generation's hipster Tesla (Harrison Gilbertson as Eron Keen) offers Grey a chance in an exclusive breakthrough experiment with STEM, an all-improving AI counterpart chip. As a refined revision of tropes laid down in Robocop and several similar cyborg and AI premises, Upgrade cleverly imagines a symbiosis of 2001's Hal 9000 and Dave, for example, where the precision of AI enhances everything connected to your nervous system. Autonomy and morality come into question in the film’s most thought-provoking moments and the brutal and superbly shot action sequences are just as satisfying as bloody good ass-kicking.
Directed and written by Leigh Whannell (the man responsible for penning the Saw and Insidious franchises), Upgrade is reminiscent of many films of its kind, yet feels utterly inspired once it gets all its pieces in place and gears in motion. The fact that the ending leaves the tantalizing possibility of an equally interesting sequel is just the cherry on top of a movie that is at least a few degrees more adept than it initially appears. Upgrade is a welcome and unexpected lo-fi diamond in the rough.
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