Leigh Whannell’s “Upgrade” explores a cyberpunk thriller narrative that explores our present anxieties related to the power dynamic between humans and technology. In this exhilarating mix of action and dystopian drama, we meet an auto mechanic in the near future who tries to seek revenge with the help of a computer chip implanted in his body. Logan Marshall-Green stars in the central role of Grey Trace. Besides him, this action flick stars Harrison Gilbertson, Benedict Hardie, Betty Gabriel, and Melanie Vanejo in the central roles. Simon Maiden appears through his voice performance.

Spoilers Ahead

Upgrade (2018) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:

Written & directed by Leigh Whannell, “Upgrade” is a slick sci-fi revenge thriller set in the near future that will definitely give you an adrenaline rush. It follows an auto mechanic who decides to seek revenge with the help of a computer chip after he suffers a horrifying tragedy.

What happens in ‘Upgrade’?

“Upgrade” follows auto mechanic Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green), who’s married to Asha (Melanie Vallejo). He works for a company that deals with human augmentations. After refurbishing a car, he asks Asha to join him while he returns it to his client, Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson), who is a famous tech innovator. While they visit his house, Eron tells them about his newest innovation – a computer chip named ‘STEM’ that can supposedly do anything. Grey refuses to believe it is beneficial to humans. Instead, he points out how detrimental it can be and can result in an unemployment crisis.

On their way back home, Grey grows cynical about these developments that will make many like him obsolete. Asha tries to cheer him up by making him appreciate the present instead. Somehow, along the way, the car malfunctions and crashes on its own. Right after, a group of four men arrive there, kill Asha, and shoot Grey, which severely injures his spinal cord. Because of it, Grey becomes quadriplegic and needs a wheelchair. Even three months later, the police cannot trace the killers. So, he gets angry at Detective Cortez (Betty Gabriel) and becomes depressed.

Why does Grey accept the STEM implant?

While Grey is in the hospital, Eron pays him a visit and tries to sell the idea of implanting STEM in Grey’s body so that he can walk again. At the time, Grey was angry at the police department’s failure to find his wife’s killers and his inability to help. So, he accepts the STEM implant to take matters into his own hands. However, Eron has a condition: Grey cannot disclose any information about STEM and must pretend that he is still relying on a wheelchair. Stem agrees. After that, STEM helps him upgrade to a human with better capabilities. Later, Grey looks at a drone footage of the attack on him & Asha. Suddenly, STEM starts speaking with him and points out something strange.

The attackers didn’t have a gun in their hands. They shot Asha through an augmented hand. With STEM’s help, Grey locates one of the assaulters, Serk (Richard Cawthorne), and breaks into his house. Grey finds evidence to prove that Serk was part of a secret military experiment that upgraded his body and finds its connection to a bar called the Old Bones. Before Grey can leave, Serk returns home and notices Grey. Serk starts beating Grey hard. Then, Grey allows STEM to take control of his body. After that, Grey beats Serk to the point of no recovery. Soon after, Grey learns that Evan tracks the chip, which lets him know about his vigilante activity. Grey tells him that STEM can talk to him, which Evan is unaware of.

What happens at the Old Bones bar?

Detective Cortez notices Grey’s wheelchair outside Serk’s house and confronts Grey. Grey says it is impossible, considering his condition. But the Detective suspects something else brewing beyond the surface. Meanwhile, despite Evan’s orders, Grey shows up at the Old Bones bar to meet another attacker, Tolan (Christopher Kirby). Grey makes Tolan confess to his involvement in the attack. Then, he gives STEM control over his body and beats Tolan and his mates, black and blue. Tolan reveals that he was working for Fisk Brantner (Benedict Hardie).

Upgrade (2018) Movie Ending Explained & Themes Analysed
A still from “Upgrade” (2018)

Right after, STEM informs Grey that Evan has learned about his location. Before STEM stops operating, Evan must leave and meet a hacker named Jamie (Kai Bradley) for help. Grey leaves his wheelchair outside the bar and starts walking toward Jamie’s building. Along the way, STEM starts losing control over Grey’s body. Luckily, Grey reaches Jamie’s apartment in time and asks her for the operation. Jamie removes STEM’s input guard and leaves just as Fisk arrives with his partner. Once STEM regains control over his body, Grey starts running away.

Upgrade (2018) Movie Ending Explained:

Who was behind the attack on Grey & Asha?

After leaving Jamie’s apartment, Grey runs back to his house where his mother, Pamela (Linda Cropper) sees him walk. So, Grey tells her the truth about STEM. Soon after, Detective Cortez returns to question him about his wheelchair abandoned at the Old Bones bar. Since Grey doesn’t tell her the truth, Cortez plants a listening device on his jacket. After she leaves, STEM tells Grey that Jamie’s hack has given it complete control over Grey’s body. It forces his body to leave the house in his car. Along the way, it realizes that Cortez is following them. So, it gets an automated car to malfunction and crash into her.

STEM takes Grey to Fisk, who reveals that he wasn’t hired to kill Asha but to implant something in Grey’s body. So, Grey gets furious and gets into a fight against him. When Fisk gets the upper hand, Grey manipulates Fisk’s emotions by telling how he hurt Fisk’s brother, Serk. Once Grey beats Fisk, STEM tells him to check Fisk’s messages to realize that Evan hired Fisk for the job. So, Grey visits Evan and confronts him. Evan confesses that he did everything because STEM forced him to. So, it was STEM who orchestrated all the events and an attack on Grey & Asha to gain control over his body to become human. It manipulated Evan to win over Grey’s confidence.

What happens to Grey in the end?

While Grey confronts Evan, Detective Cortez comes to arrest him. So, STEM takes control of Grey’s body and tries to kill her because she poses a threat to them. Once Evan confesses the truth, STEM kills him. Then, since Grey tries to gain back control over his body, it kills him. Grey imagines himself on a hospital bed next to Asha, who is alive after his accident. However, it is only his imagination. STEM tricked him into remaining lost in this tale while it used its body to kill Cortez and proceed with his goal of utter domination.

Upgrade (2018) Movie Themes Analysed

Human Augmentation & Automation

Throughout “Upgrade,” we see human augmentation & automation being parts of the lives of its characters. Grey & Asha travel through an automated car that is prone to malfunction from those who control the tech. Asha works for a company that specializes in robotic limbs for wounded soldiers, which can help humans lead better lives. However, with all these developments, exploitation by those in power remains an issue because of the corrupt human nature that looks for individual benefit against the thought of collective gain.

Labour & Unemployment

When Evan introduced the STEM chip, Grey was not optimistic about its operational benefits. Evan claims it can do all the things humans can. But Grey believes it is impossible for a machine to do that. That’s why the chip dominates them in order to be a human. Amidst this fable, we witness ripples of such intervention. It leads to human jobs being threatened by these machines, which were supposed to make life easier but not to rob its joy & dignity. As Grey points out in a scene, the overreliance on such mechanical components by capitalists leads to a crisis of unemployment.

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Upgrade (2018) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia, Letterboxd
Upgrade (2018) Movie Cast: Logan Marshall-Green, Harrison Gilbertson, Benedict Hardie, Betty Gabriel, Melanie Vallejo, Christopher Kirby, Richard Cawthorne, Linda Cropper, Ming-Zhu Hii, Emily Havea, Stephanie Demkiw, Steve Danielsen
Upgrade (2018) Movie Genre: Sci-Fi/Action/Horror | Runtime: 1h 35m
Where to watch Upgrade

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