As I sit here typing this, we face imminent burial alive under a potential 2′ of snow. Times like this, I miss the shifting dunes of the Old Kingdom. As much as I never enjoyed blowing sand out of my nose a dozen times a day (I was going through a whole mummy wrap a week at its worst), right now it’s colder than Rosie the Robot’s twat outside and my hog is going wee-wee-wee all the way back into my pelvis! Blaaaaaaaaart!
I’m 3 degrees below 0 from enacting a vengeful dropkick of doomsday proportions upon Khione’s ice block of a backside if she doesn’t chill the fuck out. Speaking of the world’s clumsiest segue, today’s nooner of a reviewner is all about vengeful vigilantism with heavy sci-fi spice, and I’m not talkin’ ’bout a ‘Dune’, my dear Willis.
The time is, THE AMBIGUOUS FUTURE! The place is, AN UNSPECIFIED CITY! In an era where everyone and their Uncle Peabo has embraced the advancement of convenience through science and law enforcement drones fill the air like boiled onion stink, Grey Trace (Tom Hardy’s non-union equivalent) is an anachronism. A traditional mechanic, he’s one of a dying breed of people who still fix things, create things, control things, and wank things with his own hands. Even Asha, his wife, pokes fun at her man’s antiquated ways from the luxury of her self-driving car. Wait, “Asha”? Exactly how much Asha are we talking about? A brimful, perhaps? Somebody get Cornershop on the phone! I need an official ruling on this!
Asha is a big(ish) wig at Cobalt: a tech company that specializes in artificially enhancing humans with prosthetic pieces and other hardware upgrades (we have a title!). Sadly, corporate sabotage is the likely cause of a hit on the Traces, which sees poor Grey paralyzed from a shot to the neck while he’s forced to watch poorer Asha’s final labored gasps for life as her lungs empty out through the massive ballistics wound in her chest. 3 months later, our dead-from-the-neck-down hero is discharged from hospital and sent home, only to discover fifty shades of irony now that the man whose major character trait of loathing servile automatons is entirely reliant on them. Oh, and his mom’s there too. After all, as Norman Bates taught us; a boy’s best friend is his mother!
Eron Keen, a pseudo Elon Musk-esque recluse genius (complete with underground lair!) who hired Grey to restore a Trans Am for him prior, gives our protag the opportunity to be whole again. His miracle offer comes via his latest creation, an Artificial Intelligence system called STEM that would control his body’s functions per his commands. Basically, his brain would still be the boss and his body parts still the workers, but STEM would be his nervous system’s middle management. Grey also has the option to take a coffee break and let the AI operate entirely autonomous, coming in especially handy when his Death Wish style vigilante campaign to locate and annihilate the bastards who murdered his wife and ruined his life… hip-hop hooray, ho?
It’s less-than-intimidating that Fisk, the leader of his nemesi, looks like Kip from Napoleon Dynamite mid mid-life crisis (having hit the gym and gotten contact lenses, purportedly to embark upon his dream of being a cage fighter), but the rest of Grey’s pain crusade is all kinds of violent fun for everyone!
It wasn’t until after watching it that I discovered Upgrade was written and directed by Leigh Whannell, frequent collaborator/friend of James Wan and one of the guys partially responsible for about 80% of the gross domestic box office for horror in the 21st Century, including the Insidious quadrilogy (or tetralogy if you prefer your prefixes Greek flavored). If this movie is any indication, the Aussie would be better suited sticking to the realm of grimy sci-fi body horror! Albeit not immensely original in and of itself, Upgrade is an amalgamation of elements distilled from a veritable killer’s row of science fiction’s darker side. It’s RoboCop, Blade Runner, The Matrix, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Frankenstein, Tetsuo: the Iron Man, Johnny Mnemonic, and The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag all in one!
Everything isn’t all double-fudge brownies and scalp massages though, and I’m not talking about the plot holes (most, if not all of which are tied up in the finale). To use a cliché, as much as I found lead Logan Marshall-Green to be a “revelation”, there are moments where Grey stumbles over the fine line between nervous and goofy when under instances of interrogation. Not frequent by any definition (unless you’re using the Bizarro World dictionary, I guess), but jarring nonetheless. Additionally, though I’m sure its a social commentary device on Whannell’s part, I’m tired of the “it’s fucking 1984 around here and the cops STILL can’t accomplish anything!” trope. Granted, the only other option fertile enough for a “choose your own revenge” tale is “rampant corruption”, but I’ll take crooked cops over Keystone Cops 60% of the time, every time.
Though Upgrade positively reeks of “future cult classic” perfume, there may be greener pastures in its future. Its ending being left wide open as the definition of “sequel bait”, talk of a follow-up has been bandied about. It doesn’t hurt that, being a modest $3 million affair, it managed to make back FIVE times its budget during its big screen run. In this case, I would assuredly welcome The Further Adventures of Grey & STEM into my home, even if for just a one-nighter. I wish I could say I’d like to change my “hit ’em and quit ’em” ways, but I lie to you fine fucks enough already.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go do my stretches and juggle medicine balls in preparation for the army of snow golem minions this storm will bless me with. Hit the music!
Four CrowboCops out-of-Five
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