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?

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Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to

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7 thoughts on “Sunday!

  1. I’m finishing Dance on the Volcano by Marie Vieux-Chauvet. Its a historical novel of late colonial Saint Domingue and the early Haitian Revolution told through the perspective of a young free woman of color named Minette. Minette is a talented actress but gets exploited by the other white actors and doesn’t get paid for her work. She falls in love with a handsome young free Black man but is scandalized when she learns he owns slaves and is really brutal with them. Its about her growing racial consciousness.

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  2. I finished Simon Winchester’s The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World. It’s about machine tools and precision measurements. From Watt’s steam engines, where the cylinders and pistons were machine-built with an accuracy around a tenth of an inch, to contemporary integrated circuits where the necessary “parts” are drawn accurate to single-digits worth of nanometers. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory that measures changes in the distance between two mirrors in small numbers of attometers (billionths of a nanometer) gets a mention, although you can’t build things at that scale since it’s way smaller than atoms.

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  3. We watched the Post last night. It wasn’t bad, because it had too many talented people in it to be bad. But it was definitely less than the sum of its parts.

    They did a great job of making the pervasive sexism of the time the main thru-line, with some striking visual storytelling in 2 or 3 scenes. Yet, I’d say the People v OJ Simpson did that theme better.

    It’s an odd case where a movie needs one more B or C plot (usually they need to jetison one or more) but this one needed it. Or at least, put more meat on the bones of Dan Ellsburg’s story (Hi Philip Jennings, now a genuine American sneaking secret stealer). Alternatively, more on Bradlee and his then wife, which is more than a little tragic. (And some fodder for conspiracy theories in its penumbra, if they wanted to go there)

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  4. I wanted to see Upgrade this weekend, but nobody nearby was playing it.

    Last night I had to put the family dog to sleep (tumor on his spleen ruptured). Heartbroken about that. He was old, 11 1/2, and we knew he was feeling his age, but the tumor was unexpected.

    Not sure what is worse, putting my friend down, or explaining to a 6 year old that the dog isn’t coming home.

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