Upgrade (2018) — The dark side of cyberpunk technology

“See, you thought I was a cripple, but you didn’t know that I’m a ninja.”

Justin’s rating: Sorta makes the Matrix look good by comparison, don’t it?

Justin’s review: I’ve kind of noticed that over the last decade or so, Australia’s been cranking out some fun scifi movies of solid quality. Such Down Under gifts include Mad Max Fury Road, These Final Hours, and Predestination. A more recent effort that’s garnered some high praise is Upgrade, a cyberpunk flick that plays on our fears of giving in too much to the intrusion of technology in our lives.

In the near-ish future, admitted technophobe Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) finds himself both widowed and a quadriplegic after he and his wife are attacked by a group of mysterious attackers. Desperate to both regain his mobility and bring justice/vengeance to his wife’s killers, Grey accepts a procedure to implant a special new computer chip into his body.

This chip, called Stem, not only can help him walk again but also starts talking to Grey and helping him in his quest. Grey’s not overly excited to discover that an artificial intelligence has set up shop in his meatspace, but initially he’s willing to compromise to enjoy the benefits that Stem produces. Benefits like becoming an unstoppable fighter, apparently. But as the revenge spree progresses, Grey starts to suspect that Stem doesn’t always have Grey’s best intentions in mind.

Grey isn’t the only cyborg on the playing field, either. Several of the bad guys have their own various modifications, from in-built guns to X-ray vision to scythe-wielding nanomachines. The tech of this movie is truly cool… if terrifying.

This movie is a really clever way to examine the potential implications of a society where cybernetic implants become more common. I think a lot of fans of the genre have fantasized about ingrafted technology granting extra powers and abilities without actually considering that there may be a downside. Or a lot of downsides. But hey, having a computer best buddy who lives in your head would be worth it, right? Right?

Upgrade kept me off balance throughout its entire run. The technology at play and action scenes are a whole lot of fun, and the dialogue between Grey and Stem is often darkly hilarious. But all of this makes the brief moments of violence and body horror all the more shocking when they happens. It’s so unsettling to see Stem (in Grey) killing people as Grey apologizes and desperately tries to order his body around.

Cyberpunk fans definitely should not miss out on this film — as long as they have a stomach for a few gross parts. I do wish that the director wasn’t so much in love with his kills so that he would’ve had time to develop his themes a bit more. Oh well. But this isn’t going to be the propaganda for making future cyborgs out of all of us, that’s for sure.

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