Set in the near-future, technology controls nearly all aspects of life. But when Grey (Logan Marshall-Green), a self-identified technophobe, has his world turned violently upside down, his only hope for revenge is an experimental computer chip implant called Stem (voiced by Simon Maiden) which is given to him by a reclusive tech genius (Harrison GIlbertson).
As much as horror can be a difficult genre for filmmakers to tackle primarily because it's so prodigious in its output, sci-fi has a similar problem but not nearly to the scale of horror. Any movie that features a revenge-seeking protagonist using technology to do so is going to draw comparisons with 'Robocop', which itself was drawing parallels with literature's first cyborg, Frankenstein. With 'Upgrade', it's much the same thing - gruff mechanic Grey Trace is set upon and beaten brutally whilst his wife is murdered before his eyes, is offered a chance to walk again and then sets off on a quest for vengeance against those who put him there in the first place.
Leigh Whannell's work, up until this point, has been primarily known for horror franchises such as 'Saw' and 'Insidious' and while his horror credentials show in the insta-gib violence throughout 'Upgrade', you can tell there's a reverence and obedience to sci-fi tropes here that makes it all just a little bit too predictable for its own good. That said, the production design is top-notch and the body modifications are done in such a way that it makes perfect sense for this neon-drenched landscape. The action, when it does kick off, is gruesomely entertaining and the camera's fixed nature and Marshall-Green's wired performance makes for some genuine thrills.
The downside, however, is that it's all too far between and the movie is punctuated by long sequences of Marshall-Green's character interrogating people and wrestling with Stem, the icily calm voice inside his head that guides his broken body into doing the same to others. Whannell's script gives it a decent chance to deal with the moral dilemma of allowing someone else do your dirty work - even if it is you technically still doing it - but there isn't half as much fun in that as there is in seeing him kick twelve shades of crap out of people whilst looking bewildered as he does it. Whilst 'Robocop' had a real satirical bent to it and a cynical eye to American culture as a whole that was dressed up in over-the-top violence, here in 'Upgrade' there's very little to grab on to in this regard.
Still, for an original piece of sci-fi action cinema, 'Upgrade' has enough kick to it to make it worth your while and makes for a grisly, entertaining watch.