Qt3 Movie Podcast: Upgrade

Is it Ex Machina or Deus Ex? Or both? Or something else entirely?

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.quartertothree.com/fp/2018/09/06/qt3-movie-podcast-upgrade/

@tomchick: “I’ve watched plenty of comedies that I don’t think are funny.”

@Brooski: The Lobster




Tom, you’ve said in the podcast that idea of an arm gun is ridiculous, and it’s a sure indicator of silliness of the movie.

Could you, please, explain to me why you think that? I mean, it’s a cyberpunk movie albeit low budget, of course it might include an augmented weaponised arm and a nano bots tech.

Nano bots sneeze is a little bit silly, I give you that, but the idea that something so playful could be so devastating might be horrific as well. I mean, the sneeze was a little bit silly in execution only, while the arm gun was portrayed as totally cool.

P.S: Logan Marshall-Green and the ending (including its theme) saved the movie.


For the same reason Dingus thinks a computer chip in your neck turning your body into a superhuman paragon of strength, speed, dexterity, and perception is silly. How does it all fit into a forearm? What is the mechanism that’s chambering a shotgun shell? Where is the magazine that holds all the shells? I think we see dude feeding at least three shells into his arm as they’re heading towards the room where Grey is getting hacked. Fisk and his buddy weren’t exactly jacked-up muscle-bound behemoths. And given that the movie takes place in America, they could just carrying shotguns around if they wanted. The Upgrade dystopia didn’t seem to have very strict gun control or even much of a police presence. Also, it seems like a bad design. What if you fire without lifting your fingers sufficiently? Will you blow your fingers off? Will the muzzle blast burn your fingertips? Ouch!

But you mistake me if you think I’m complaining. I also think a dude who wears a skintight outfit and spews infinite amounts of web fluid wires to swing around buildings is silly. But that doesn’t affect my enjoyment of the Spider-Man game in the least. Some of my favorite things are silly! A shark that attacks a boat? A post-apocalypse where fuel efficiency doesn’t matter one whit? A teleporting Arabic assassin in a burka patrolling the streets of Seoul, South Korea?

So, yes, gun arms are silly. A lot of Upgrade is silly. That has no bearing on how much I liked it (i.e. a lot).



It seems like Upgrade isn’t trying to answer these questions, but I see how it could be explained in one way or another in a movie with a higher production values and a slightly tweaked tech like a prosthetic arm with a gun inside it.

I know nothing about guns and guns handling, hence my question about silliness, that’s why you could disregard everything I would say, but I always thought that’s the point of such a tech is to hide a weapon, make yourself looks unarmed and less dangerous, especially at a greater distance.

By the way, I don’t like the shooting style that was used in the movie. I mean, the guys almost always just pointed their arms at everything narrowing the difference between a gun in the hand and an arm gun, instead of using something way more subtle like Center Axis Relock stance. Btw, I know about that stance thanks to a video game :)

Could be a safety mechanism which prevents shooting based on positioning of your wrist or your fingers’ muscles, but I get the point.

Wow, what movie is that? :)


That’s the videogame Agents of Mayhem.


Right, Upgrade has no interest in where the magazine of shotgun shells is stored inside the dude’s arm, partly because who cares? But mostly because it’s not that kind of movie, which is my point. Dingus was complaining about how the fight scenes are unrealistic because a microchip in your neck can’t magically give you superhuman strength or reflexes. Although he’s correct, that has no bearing on the story Whannell was telling. Science fiction doesn’t have to fuss with science if it doesn’t want to, and comedic over-the-top action power fantasy sci-fi can pretty much just ignore science if it wants.

That was pretty endearing watching the dude demonstrate the stance. Game developers are dorks who make cool things happen.

One of the problems early fighter planes had to solve was how to stick a machine gun on a plane. It couldn’t go on the wings because it was too heavy. So it had to go on the fuselage. But then there was the issue of the propeller at the front of the fuselage pulling the plane along. So they used a gear wheel to synchronize the firing of the gun with the rotation of the propeller. The gun was timed to fire through the propeller blades! I always thought that was pretty cool. But, yeah, if I were to invent a gun arm that you fired out of your palm, there would be some sort of safety to make sure it didn’t go off when, say, you were making a fist. Things might otherwise get messy.


One of the problems early fighter planes had to solve was how to stick a machine gun on a plane. It couldn’t go on the wings because it was too heavy. So it had to go on the fuselage. But then there was the issue of the propeller at the front of the fuselage pulling the plane along. So they used a gear wheel to synchronize the firing of the gun with the rotation of the propeller. The gun was timed to fire *through* the propeller blades!

This is true, but an even earlier expedient was to place armor on the back of the propeller blades, and an even earlier one was (to quote wikipedia) “firing straight through the propeller arc and ‘hoping for the best’”. Apparently a prop blade could usually take a few hits before failing, which I doubt would make me very sanguine about pressing that trigger.


I’m much closer to Christien than anyone else on this one. I perhaps enjoyed the comedic elements a bit more than he did, but I agree it’s not a comedy, even an unfunny one. I also don’t think it worked at whatever it was trying to do, but I will say that the ending redeemed it from just being completely dumb. In fact, it was the dumbness that made the ending inevitable, or at least extremely predictable. I’m normally terrible at guessing twists and such, but I clocked the initial twist as soon as Stem started speaking, because why the hell would you create a general ai in something that only needs to interpret motor control signals? In fact, I was pretty sure a little before then because, a) the tech CEO looked shifty as fuck and, come on, it’s a tech CEO in an edgy sci-fi film, and b) why would he be worried about approval for tess for doing something we’re already doing trials on? It can only be an ulterior motive. And then, once it became apparent he had a full AI in his head, there was really only one way this could go, because you never have two sentiences in the same body without a power struggle. And so it continued. Even if you put in a general AI to do the job of a motor controller, why would it have all this cultural knowledge about how detectives work? Why would it have martial arts capability (and why, as Dingus quibbled, would his body be able to do that).

Now, fine, this is all nitpicky nerd stuff, but it just meant that I spent the whole movie going “This doesn’t make sense, and the only way it can be made to make a semblance of sense is if the movie pans out this way”. And it did. So I didn’t get the pleasure of surprise, and the movie’s other qualities weren’t enough to make up for that. After the initial fight scene, what Tom described as a power fantasy ceased to be interestingly handled, or inherently interesting (Bourne didn’t really do anything for me either). The comedic elements weren’t particularly strong apart from a handful of laugh lines, and I don’t have the Green Logan Marshall bug. I’m just not sure what it was trying to be. It doesn’t work as a rogue AI thriller because it’s so predictable. It doesn’t work as a comedy because it’s not particularly funny (and I don’t think it has a comedy structure). It doesn’t work as body horror because it has this weird tension between gratuitous violence (eg Gray’s first kill) and holding back. It doesn’t work as cyberpunk because the tech was so inconsistent and the world building was so shallow. It was just making nods in the direction of all these genres and hoping the central gimmick would carry it, which for me it didn’t. I’d much have preferred it if they’d gone full Indonesian, as Tom put it.

Also, Gray Trace. For fuck’s sake. I’m terrible with character names so I didn’t realise that was his name until the cop put it into the computer and I was thinking “Why is this police database called raytrace?”


I watched it yesterday, and liked it very much!

I liked the twist at the end. Like, everyone watching this knew the hitmen were surely hired by the blond genious guy, and STEM seemed to direct the protagonist towards some path, but I believed it was also a plan of the blond guy, not that it was all STEM as a individual. The twist that the AI had been controlling his company for years and the blondie was his puny puppet that didn’t know what to do anymore was good, it was like ‘ohh, the moment the AI turned evil and surpassed humans existed, but that happened time ago, this story isn’t about that moment, this story is AFTER that’, and I liked the ‘bad’ end, it was original, and in some ways it was the most logical end.

In fact I will say this was a better Ghost in the Shell film than the Scarlet’s GITS film. It feature a future world with people with cybernetic implants, things like cyber eyes to see through walls and embedded guns on arms are basically GITS gadgets. It featured cyber-enhanced fights scenes, and a story about AI gone rogue and inhabiing a human body.

(and yes, in reality an AI chip shouldn’t given you super strength, that’s silly)


I watched this as well (time for a catch-up-on-movies streak), and I think I’m more with Dingus than with Tom&Kelly, although not fully so.
I agree that it’s not a comedy, and I think that Tom&Kelly cut the movie a lot of slack because they label it as one. There are some funny bits in it (the dishes), but that doesn’t make it a comedy. And the “I’m a ninja” bit fell soo flat for me. As did the car “chase”, what was that?!

I do like it more than Dingus does though - it’s got holes, sure, but I like the premise, the ending(!!) and off-brand Tom Hardy in it. Upgrade is fine, but not necessarily good