A cyberpunk schlockfest in the grand tradition of ‘Robocop’, ‘Upgrade’ is modest in budget, big on ideas and a total blast. The new film written and directed by ‘Saw’ and ‘Insidious’ co-creator Leigh Whannell unfolds in the digital world of the very near future: cars are self-driving, homes are run by Alexa-like AI, and surveillance drones patrol the skies (Whannell’s hometown Melbourne stands in for a North American metropolis). After old-school motor mechanic Gray Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) is left paralysed in a savage attack that leaves his wife dead, he accepts an offer from a reclusive young genius, Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson), to be implanted with a revolutionary chip called STEM that can restore his ability to move and has the incidental side effect of making him a total badass at hand-to-hand combat. The augmented Trace begins tracking down his wife’s killers and taking them out in giddy scenes that juxtapose extreme violence with comedy – he can’t quite believe what he’s seeing himself do, and can’t help commenting on the mayhem.
‘Upgrade’s quadriplegic hero neatly personifies what we all fear technology will one day do to us: render us passive, machine-reliant and redundant. And when STEM begins speaking to Trace in a placid voice that channels HAL 9000 (Simon Maiden), we’re clued into the fact that his new superhuman status could be a poisoned chalice. Whannell shoots the action with dizzying inventiveness and there are brilliant conceits, such as shotguns built into human arms and a nanobot-laced sneeze that kills. Everything you could hope for, in short, in 100 minutes of pulpy fun. Should they even bother with the forthcoming ‘Six Million Dollar Man’ remake?