I like science fiction films that make me think, but sometimes a concept really gets my gears moving. Films with robots tend to catch my fancy. I even taught an English unit to high school students involving classic short stories about robots and how they could have a positive or negative effect on society. 95% of the time, the stories lean toward the negative. “Surrogates,” based off of a graphic novel, is no exception. While engaging and moderately exciting, it raises more questions that it answers.
In the near future, people have locked themselves in their homes and hooked their brains up to a virtual reality network so they can safely control ultra-attractive, robot versions of themselves in the outside world. FBI Agent Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) and his partner, Peters (Radha Mitchell), become baffled by a case in which the son of the creator of surrogates is murdered by a weapon that can remotely kill the operator through the robot. When Greer’s surrogate is destroyed while chasing the suspect, he must solve the mystery in the flesh before a maniac uses a virus to kill everyone hooked up to a surrogate.
A fantastic idea, but when sci-fi concepts begin to border on the improbable, I classify it in the “tech-fantasy fable” category. In this story, splinter groups called “The Dreads” (because of their hippy dreadlocks I guess) form reservations where surrogates are not only considered off limits, but they destroy them immediately. The reservations are small and include small rural communities and urban blight areas in cities like Chicago and Memphis.
And apparently these are the only people who thought this was a bad idea. It’s like all world governments and learned people suddenly lost the ability to see how dysfunctional – or depraved – such a technology would make us as a species. The film explores very little of this and downright omits the rest. First, consider the obvious: No disease transmission would cause a new sexual revolution, but cause negative population growth due to the fact that humans aren’t technically touching anymore. With no one physically leaving their homes, mental illness would run rampant. The mere suggestion would offend most world religions and draw overwhelming condemnation from ethical watchdogs. Also, how is this even remotely affordable? That’s just scratching the surface.
The film also doesn’t address how children survive in this world. Do all children under 18 use surrogates? Do they have restrictions on height, strength and speed? If surrogates are all superhuman with the same limits, how does this affect sports and professions that require physical talent? Doesn’t being unconscious and unaware at home make you MORE vulnerable while you’re robot is out and about? What if there’s a break in, or a fire, earthquake, tornado, etc…?
The film fails to address the full range of the concept, but does cover some interesting ones. In this world, soldiers in the field never die. No one dies in car crashes or accidents because it’s only property, not people. People can jump around like Spider-Man, if they have to but don’t usually (which is weird because that’s ALL I would be doing). Since your robot could look like anyone or be anyone, gender and race doesn’t seem to be an issue anymore. For example: A 7-ft. African American scientist surrogate is actually revealed to be a short, white, balding man. Plus, surrogates can be hijacked by other users.
The only thing interesting about the performances is the contrast between the surrogates and their human counterparts. As “surrys” they walk stiff and appear expressionless for the most part. The younger the actor/actress, the more natural their surrogates looked because less makeup was needed to hide their age. Radha Mitchell and Rosamund Pike (who plays Greer’s emotionally damaged wife) look stunning as surrys despite wearing too much foundation. Willis looks so plastic, wooden and silly as a robot, I felt relieved when its destruction forced him to play a human again. Perhaps he’s getting too old for these roles, which seems to be something of a plot point in the film.
As humans all actors appear old, out of shape and extremely sad. Regardless, director Jonathan Mostow doesn’t know how to get fully human performances out of any of them. Mostow also botches the pacing and tone of the film. I defended him for doing a passable job on “Terminator 3,” but I’m not convinced he’s cut out for this biz.
Despite my complaints, “Surrogates” gets a lot right. It’s a competent and thought-provoking sci-fi thriller, even if it’s a little low on the action promised in the trailer. If you’re interested in stories about how technology/progression will be the end of us all, put this one in your rental queue. However, I still believe other recent movies like “Eagle Eye,” “I, Robot” and even “A.I.” did it much better. For a more interesting version of the same “loss of humanity” theme presented in “Surrogates,” I recommend the vastly underrated sci-fi fable, “Equilibrium” (5 out of 5 stars) starring Christian Bale.
3 out of 5 stars
Trailer for “Surrogates” below (Warning! This trailer telegraphs the ending!)…
Now a trailer for the superior “Equilibrium”…
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