I was debating whether or not to see this due to its ableist look and literally basing all the action off of that and a woman in a fridge moment. I am not one to say if it is or isn’t for sure and I leave that to people in a better place to judge, but if you were to ask me? Yeah it is. How so?
The plot is summed up as thus. The story takes place in some not too distant future where technology is at once familiar and not and is fully integrated into most peoples lives. You can see a tenth generation Alexa, third generation self driving cars, police drones that patrol the sky, and of course everyone is tagged to be able to be detected by the drones (of course there’s a way around that too). A working class mechanic Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) and his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) who is some form of executive for a cybernetic company run afoul of some bad people aiming to do bad things. They kill Asha and leave Grey a quadriplegic who has no choice but to watch her die inches from his fingers. Several months later after he’s released from the hospital, and an appropriately long sequence showing what his life is like this, he begins to sink into a depression. This of course is when one of his former clients makes him an offer he can’t refuse – a chip that can be inserted into his body that would take over for the interrupt from brain to spine. With the computer chips help, that conveniently comes with an AI named STEM (Simon Maiden), Grey goes on the hunt for those who killed his wife.
There we go, everything from the trailer summed up and not a single spoiler, yet I still covered the entire setup for the movie. It cannot be denied that the movie leads in with a women in fridge moment, but so does something like The Crow. It’s worth bringing that film up since at the core there’s an element of origin stories there brought to bear, and yes, this pales in comparison to that one. But we have a mechanic and his female companion who come to cross a group of bad guys who do something horrific to both; which leads to the man coming back from the brink of death to avenge her. Pretty familiar?
As for the trope of women in fridges. Is the trope tired? Yeah, its why it is generally looked down on and writers (looking at Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick here) don’t get a by for saying they don’t know about it. Now I don’t know if Leigh Whannel the writer and director of Upgrade knows of it. After writing SAW way back in 2004 and the decade and half of films and media that have followed I can’t say for sure. I can say in my opinion (though correct me otherwise readers) having someone else die to cause him pain is somehow psychologically less Ableist as its not the grief of his own situation that drives him but the loss of wife. Could it have been a child (see Crow 2), parents – maybe? Dog…no. John Wick did that and you are no John Wick.
So the story is problematic perhaps on a few levels. The acting is nothing really to write home about. The actors are fine, but don’t really stand out. What does stand out is the fact you can tell this was made by Blumhouse. They don’t shy away from visceral imagery when it suits the purpose of the camera. There were multiple reactions in my showing to some of the character ends. The world the characters live in is an interesting mix of familiar and not as I mentioned before; but doesn’t quite deliver on any single aspect of it. Players of Shadowrun and Cyberpunk who see this will simply want a real SR or CB movie to come and after Bright and Altered Carbon and now this – we need one. Badly. With someone like Fuqua at the helm, but that’s a conversation for a different post.
Upgrade was a sufficient enough action film. It is far more Science Action than Science Fiction as it has no real message and the technologies presented don’t feel too unreasonable within the next 50 years. The action scenes are shot well and aren’t quite like anything we’ve seen before due to the jerky motions required for the narrative. I was entertained for its very 80’s ninety-five minute running time as was the rest of the audience.
Should I see it?
It’s too quick to ever become boring and doesn’t really suffer any editorial flaws, but as discussed above there are some problematic elements to its architecture that shouldn’t be ignored. That said if you don’t care about such things you won’t hate the thing; those who do I can say just give it a pass.
If you do plan to see it – matinee only.
Would you see it again?
In theatres? No.
Buying it then?
Undecided. It has some cool tech and sci fi elements I would use for gaming, but I don’t know if its worth the $20 for that. Maybe…ask again in September when it’s released for the home.
Not a lot of praise for this. It sounds kinda meh?
I *was* entertained and there’s some stuff worth talking about, but I can’t without spoilers. It’s above a Meh but just barely into the good category. I can tell it was shot on a tight budget and they were judicious with it so points there…I guess?
Well next Thursday I am travelling for work so there may not be a review; I’ll have a choice between Hotel Artemis or Ocean’s 8 if I do see something. I would probably pick Artemis and wait til the week to see 8 with some friends.
I was hoping for an examination of where the human ends and the AI begins… at least ask the question. It’s honestly one of the things I thought was lacking from Mass Effect Andromeda. You have this thing intrinsically tied to you that gives you superhuman abilities. Are you even human anymore?
They don’t really explore that with any real depth; its on the surface with some elements. If anything there is an exploration of giving up control to the machine and what that could mean, but again I think its a shallow exploration of it as it plays out to a zero sum game with that exploration.
In a slightly spoilerish comment, it tried to be ex-machina but with cyborgs and is just hollow on that.
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