When you think science fiction movies, one of the worst things you can hear is ‘low budget’. Historically, that means cheesy costumes and seriously subpar special effects. So much of science fiction is world-building, and that’s an expensive endeavour. It simply isn’t possible to make the out-there environments and characters feel real on the cheap. At least, that’s how it is for most movies, but not for movies like Upgrade.
Upgrade takes place in a future just out of reach. There aren’t flying cars, but the desks have become iPads, and the cars talk back while they drive themselves. In the futuristic utopia, though, one Grey Trace is not a robot fan. His technophobia is justified when his wife’s smart car is tampered with by a group of hitmen sent to kill her. The accident leaves Grey paralysed, and the only way he can walk again is with a spinal implant known as STEM.
With a few well-constructed props and a drone or two, Upgrade sells its advanced sci-fi world within the first five minutes. A good thing, too, since the movie’s hour-and-35-minute runtime doesn’t leave much room for floundering. What you get is one of the best-paced movies seen in a long time. It’s almost infuriating just how good the script is. This kind of information efficiency is the stuff film students only dream of.
Upgrade also firmly establishes it as a different film within the first five seconds. Whereas most films use a visual title card, Upgrade announces its presence with a soothing, yet ominous, voiceover. Of course, that’s nothing compared to the voice that our hero begins to hear in his head. The film plays as a sort of buddy-cop film as Grey and STEM go searching for his wife’s killers.
The film has some of the most imaginative, fun and wildly expressive fight scenes I’ve seen in a long time. It’s filmed with a sort of kinetic energy as STEM takes control of Grey’s body, making him move like a man turned machine. Logan Marshall-Green’s body-language performance absolutely crafts the illusion of a change once he receives his upgrade.
While the story is simple, the film does a lot with it. No – Upgrade is a lesson in doing more with less, with an ending that establishes it as possibly one of the greatest of all time.