A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Not a message movie, but the main character does try to do the right thing, whether or not he succeeds.
Positive Role Models
Grey tries to do what’s right and shows some ingenuity under pressure. During the times he lacks physical control, he sort of reminds those who might forget that severely disabled people are still capable of being emotionally and mentally responsive. But that's mitigated by the fact that he gains superpowers. The detective on the case is a smart, brave woman of color.
Violence & Scariness
Lots of sci-fi/martial arts violence, some of which is extremely graphic/gory. A character's head is impaled on a shard of glass. Another is stabbed in the temple. Another's head is blown off. Someone's head is nearly cut in half at the mouth, and another's face is slashed many, many times by a knife (offscreen, but the bloody result is shown). A character is shot point-blank. A character attempts suicide via overdose. And more.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A married couple gets frisky in a car, but it's not at all explicit.
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Frequent use of words including "f--k," "s--t," "goddamn," "c--k," "a--hole," "sons of bitches," "hell," etc.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Grey drinks whiskey, but perhaps not as much as you might expect, given his predicament. He attempts suicide via prescribed-medication overdose.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Upgrade is a violent sci-fi thriller about a man (Logan Marshall-Green) who loses his wife (Melanie Vallejo) and is severely injured in a terrible crime, then gets a high-tech implant that enables him to function physically again. Teens may well be interested, but the graphic violence approaches the level of Saw, writer-director Leigh Whannell's signature film as a writer. The martial arts/sci-fi fighting is well choreographed but gets very gruesome: Expect impalings, stabbings, heads being blown off (as well as nearly cut off), slashings, a point-blank shooting, and more. A character also attempts suicide via overdose. The language is salty, though not constant (expect a few uses of "f--k," "s--t," "goddamn," etc.). There's some drinking, but it's not to excess, and there's no iffy sexual content. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This sci-fi/action movie is clever, twisty, and sometimes shockingly violent. Upgrade is, as its name implies, a major step up for writer-director Leigh Whannell (Saw, Insidious). It's well thought-out and funny. It's imaginative. And it's a surprisingly effective mashup of several genres -- superhero (à la Unbreakable), sci-fi (in the neighborhood of The Matrix and Ex Machina), revenge (think Death Wish or The Crow), comedy (All of Me), and horror (more for the gore than anything else). Yet it manages to be its own thing; it takes direction from its influences without being derivative. It's a wild ride with good production values and great stunts.
The performances are also very good for the genre(s). Gilbertson, coming across as a mix of James Dean and David Bowie, is suitably freaky and suspicious as Eron. Simon Maiden's work as the voice of Stem, the implant, is deceptively skillful: The AI is programmed to recite words with a largely unchanging cadence, but Maiden squeezes quite a lot of mileage out of his lines. Gabriel is smart and sympathetic as the cop. But this is Marshall-Green's movie, and it demands a great deal of the actor. He plays an able-bodied person, then a quadriplegic, then a man who's consciously sending commands to a computer to move his body, and then a super-efficient, machine-like fighter and athlete. Like Steve Martin in All of Me, he manages to act while performing physical feats that surprise even him, including struggling against his own body. The emotional demands are also unusual for a genre film. Marshall-Green is up to expressing bliss, deep sorrow, rage, fear, and bewilderment -- all organically and all in context. Those elements, the visceral consequences of Grey's actions, and the extreme gore are more than enough to separate Upgrade from the sci-fi/superhero pack, but the movie is also quite well plotted. There are just enough twists to keep things interesting without straining credulity. For those who can stomach it, Upgrade may prove a pleasant surprise indeed.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.