Friday, June 08, 2018

Upgrade (2018)

Details matter.

I came out of Upgrade feeling like something was missing.  It was a decent movie, but it wasn’t great.  It wasn’t until later that I realized the story didn’t have many unnecessary details.  Everything seemed to move the story along.

The movie begins with Grey Trace fixing a classic car for a man named Eron Keen.  His wife, Asha, is coming home in a futuristic, self-driving car.  He tends towards the past whereas she tends towards the future.  Either way, he needs her to follow him so he can drop off the car.  He’ll need a ride back, after all.

On that ride back, they get into an accident.  The car’s AI malfunctions and takes them to a bad part of town, where it finally accelerates and has an accident.  Both survive the crash, but Asha is killed by a gang and Grey is left paralyzed.

Mr. Keen pays Grey a visit in the hospital.  Eron may be able to use a chip called STEM that he’s developed to fix Grey’s spine.  Grey initially refuses.  Without his wife, all he can think about is ending his life.  He reconsiders, only to find that there’s a catch: He can’t tell anyone about the chip.  That means rolling around in a wheelchair to keep up appearances.  He can’t even tell his own mother.

Soon, Grey realizes that there’s another catch.  The chip comes with a voice.  While Grey is researching the accident he was in, STEM speaks up to point out an identifying mark on one of the attackers.  From there, Grey is able to find and exact revenge on the people that killed his wife and put him in a wheelchair.

It’s your basic revenge movie, in the same vein as Death Wish.  The problem is that it’s just that: Basic.  With Death Wish, we get to see the main character’s family.  Here, Grey has a wife, who dies, and a mother, who we get to see very little of.  It’s mostly Grey taking suggestions from STEM.

The act in need of revenge occurs very early in the movie.  We don’t get any flashbacks to Grey and Asha meeting or getting married.  We get the impression that they’re happily married.  However, this is The Grey Trace Show, with his trusty sidekick, STEM.  There isn’t a lot to differentiate this from other revenge movies. The only thing that makes Grey different is that his body is augmented.  He has an advantage over the average bad guy.

I had gone in to the movie hoping to see a lot of the effects shown in the trailer.  I did get that, but even that wasn’t as much as I would have wanted.  There are a few fight scenes, but a lot of the movie is Grey getting deeper into trouble because STEM is there to egg him on and help him fight, if necessary.

This is almost like a rough draft of a great movie.  It had the elements, but it was pared down to the basics.  Maybe we could have had flashbacks to Grey and Asha meeting.  There was none of that.  There’s no real history of who Eron is.  I don’t recall seeing any articles on him.  He’s like a stock tech guy, there only to have the answer.

In fact, I would say that almost all of the characters aren’t even McGuffins.  They’re more like signposts, pointing Grey in the right direction or telling us where Grey is.  The mother is there to take care of him and show us that Grey is in need.  The gang is there to beat the crap out of Grey.  Asha is there to be the motivation for Grey to seek revenge.  STEM is almost like a tour guide, in that respect.  The AI shows Grey things that he normally wouldn’t have found or seen.

As for the ending, I’m not sure where the movie wanted to go.  It serves as a way for the movie to have a complete ending.  It could also set up a second act.  As with Bright, some aspects of Upgrade would make more sense if that were true.  I could see this as part of a larger story arc.  I could also see this being a wasted movie.  I guess I’ll have to see what happens.

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