So I went to see the movie Upgrade. I thought it was really good. If you don’t mind violent action movies that have both knife violence and gun violence (seriously, it’s a violent movie), this one has some interesting things in it. I recommend it. I’m going to be talking about the movie at length in this essay (including spoilers of the ending of the film) so if you don’t want the movie spoiled, you should just hit your back button now and catch the movie at your local movie place. But, seriously… the movie is violent. If you don’t like violence, don’t see it. Just read the post instead.
Only people here who don’t mind spoilers or who have already seen the movie? Okay.
Holy cow. What a fun movie.
One of the things I wasn’t entirely sure about from the trailer was the setting. It felt like it could be anywhere from “20 Minutes Into The Future” to some Cyberpunk Techno Dystopia set 20 minutes after that.
Well, as it turns out, it’s set 20 minutes after that. So the movie takes place 40 minutes into the future. We have ubiquitous self-driving cars but there are still hobbyists who know how to work on and tune up muscle cars from the late 20th century. There are ubiquitous cyber enhancements available for people but there are still luddites out there who decline to get any. Fewer and fewer every year, though. While there is a great deal of wealth… well, there are also rough parts of town.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen 80% of the movie. For those who haven’t,
Well, one of the few luddite car hobbyists out there is working on a car for Elon Musk. We meet him right as he finishes his job and enlists his high-powered business executive wife to help him drop off the car at Elon’s (he’ll need a ride home, you see). We drop off the car and see that Elon is not particularly good with people but, hey, he’s Elon Musk. We get our first glimpse of What The Future Holds: a computer chip called “STEM”.
Well, on the way home, Things Go Wrong. The self-driving car self-drives itself into a rough part of town, our lovely couple finds themselves ambushed by a surprisingly competent team of Evil Dudes, our protagonist’s love interest is killed, and our protagonist is paralyzed.
Flash forward to after the physical therapy is done. Our protagonist no longer has the use of his arms and legs and is only mobile because of assistive technology. As good as the assistive tech is… well, our protagonist is frustrated to the point where he attempts suicide. Elon Musk shows up after the attempt fails and offers STEM. STEM is amazing. STEM allows our protagonist to walk again. Unfortunately, the FDA doesn’t exactly allow for human testing of stuff that Elon Musk makes in his and so our protagonist needs to sign an NDA. Well, hey. Our protagonist can sign it with his own hand so sign it he does.
Once home, our protagonist really starts noticing how good STEM is. STEM notices things in the footage that not only our protagonist has missed but the police have missed. STEM can read tattoos that are mere blurs in the footage. STEM can recreate them. STEM can tell our protagonist that they’re military UPC codes. STEM can even read military UPC codes… and that gives our protagonist a name and a starting point to really start investigating what the police have missed.
This involves getting in a number of fights with a number of people in a number of bad parts of town.
The police notice that our protagonist has been showing up at the places where these fights have occurred and really start leaning into questioning him. His presumably air-tight alibi (being a quadriplegic) is demonstrating to be less and less air-tight and so Elon Musk sends out a shutdown command to STEM. STEM provides the name/address of a hacker and a handful of commands that will, among other things, make it so Elon Musk can no longer shut down STEM remotely.
“Among other things” includes “operate independently of our protagonist”. At this point, the movie changes.
We saw a hint of what the movie was in the first real action scene in the “Permission Granted!” scene. The looks of horror on the face of the protagonist were not slapstick, but foreshadowing. Sure, STEM and our protagonist work together to finally kill the man who put the protagonist’s wife in the fridge, but we learn that the twist is not that Elon Musk orchestrated everything that happened (as one could easily see telegraphed from the trailer). It’s that STEM orchestrated everything. We see STEM take over a driverless car. Just like what happened at the start of the film! We see that STEM was in Elon’s head the whole time and telling Elon what to say!
It’s not an action movie you’ve been watching for the last 100 minutes. It’s a horror movie. This isn’t a buddy movie. It’s a demonic possession movie.
I saw this movie with a group of friends from the office and one of them had heard *NOTHING* about the movie to this point. Like, he hadn’t so much as seen a poster. He just heard that the movie was out, a bunch of people were seeing it together, he shrugged and said “I’m in. Sure.”
And he said that the movie was a *HUGE* roller-coaster ride and he loved the slow-roll of the movie from cyberpunk to action to horror. By contrast, I went into the movie having watched the trailer and figuring out that Elon Musk was behind everything just from how these tropes tend to play out. (Granted… I had assumed that Elon Musk did this because Elon Musk was evil… and not that Elon did this because Elon was the demon’s first host and now the demon wanted a newer, better, body to boss around.)
Which makes me wonder what it’d be like to just go into a movie like this one blind. (And wondering how I’d go about seeing a movie that I’d really want to see but knowing nothing about it beforehand.)
Now the movie has a handful of minor plot holes (why were the police so much more interested in digging into the murders that took place in the bad part of town than in the murder of the high-powered executive to the point where they started tailing the quadriplegic? Why didn’t the police show up at Elon Musk’s house with backup? A police car picked her up after an automobile accident! It’s not like she didn’t have probable cause at that point to ask for backup! Why in the heck did the hacker say “we can’t let them win”? Who is the “them” they were talking about?) but, meh. You can wave them away.
The fight scenes were exciting and the twist to the twist was interesting and the movie had the strength of its own convictions to go where the plot took it at the end and didn’t offer up a cyberpunk exorcism.
Now, looking back, I can’t help but notice it’s another “technology is *BAD*!” movie (they even named the demon “STEM”) but if you don’t mind sermons against the coming demons that will surely possess us all… golly, you probably enjoyed this one as much as I did.
So… what are you watching and/or reading?