Guest Movie Review: "Upgrade" (2018)
Upgrade snuck up on me and almost got by me entirely. A random cruise around YouTube forced upon me a short trailer for the film. The premise, quips, and cinematography seemed fun enough to give it a shot, so I submitted to that whim and went to the theater with a friend to check it out. My brain needed to turn off for a little while and soak in some entertainment, and this seemed like just the movie for that job.
And, boy, was it entertaining. The overall running time is popcorn short at only 95 minutes, but it zoomed by faster than a “Black Mirror” episode – and solidly within the same genre. It is Frankenstein meets Robo Cop.
The plot of Upgrade centers on a couple that are involved in a terrible car wreck. Asha Trace, (the enchanting Melanie Vallejo, Power Rangers Mystic Force), is shot and murdered in front of her husband, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall Green, Prometheus) who can only be described as “Tom Hardy Lite.” The husband’s condition results in him being a paraplegic. As a highly self-reliant man that loved to work with his hands, robot assistance is beyond an annoyance for him and you really feel for the character’s depression having lost his wife and entire identity all at once. Grey is offered an experimental chip from his former employer that can be inserted into the spine to allow a computer AI to control his movement. From there the film explodes into pure chaos. He wants to find the men that killed his wife and Stem, the AI computer system, begins to speak within his mind to assist him in that goal. A strong female cop, Cortez (Betty Gabriel, Westworld), becomes involved and muddies the cloudy water even further. By the end of this film – and I will not provide spoilers for anyone that may have missed Upgrade’s release as well – you feel less than thrilled at the outcome for everyone.
Now, were there many twists and turns? Not really. Were there some aspects to the story that made a little less sense? Well, sure. But was it fun as hell? Oh, most definitely. If you like the trailer, you’ll like the movie. They tell you exactly what you’re getting into. A good “popcorn movie” should be honest in that regard right out of the gate, & Upgrade tells you exactly what you’re in store for. I appreciate that.
Ok, so what didn’t make sense. I have to mention it. I feel compelled to bitch a little bit even if I enjoyed myself. It’s in the red band trailer so this shouldn’t be all that much of a surprise to anyone that hasn’t seen the film: the bad guys have guns. In. Their. Arms. Yes, you read that correctly. They shoot out of their wrist when they bring their palm up like some Tetsuo Spider-Man. The ammunition is loaded into the bicep and cocked by a simple bicep curl. It’s a fun idea, and I know it came to fruition through a conversation where someone said the word “handgun” and another guy said, “Ooh, I have the perfect idea for a movie!” and Upgrade was made. Then, someone of course pointed out that all the bad guys had to be “armed.” That continued ad nauseam. What really got me with the idea though is that guns get hot. Very hot. The effects on the skin would be an audible shriek from anyone shooting their weapons.
Whew, that’s off my chest now.
Upgrade comes from a long line of technophobia films that go back (arguably) as far as Frankenstein which pull from Greek myths such as the story of Prometheus. There is a profound distrust and fear of technology, particularly new technology. In some respects, it’s a fear of the unknown and the chaos of the unknown that you risk being consumed by when you venture too far. That’s always the theme of these films: pushing technology too far into the unknown or chaotic realm invites destruction on those wishing to reap perceived benefits.
Overall, Upgrade doesn’t try to dive into the depth of that sub-genre of sci-fi too deeply but instead tosses in a small explanation as to why we build technology and blindly fall into its trap- reality is painful, and fantasy is devoid of pain. We create our fantasy worlds with video games, cellphones, robots, etc. so we can hide from the suffering that we see and feel around us.
Upgrade is popcorn at it’s finest, made and marketed for those who just want to go and enjoy some serious ass-kicking and witty presentation. It also gives you a driving theme that you can sink your teeth into if you’re looking for something a little deeper. Either way, you’ll enjoy yourself.