Bruce Willis as Greer
Radha Mitchell as Peters
Rosamund Pike as Maggie
Boris Kodjoe as Stone
James Francis Ginty as Canter
James Cromwell as Older Canter
Ving Rhames as The Prophet
Jack Noseworthy as Strickland
Devin Ratray as Bobby
Michael Cudlitz as Colonel Brendon
Jeffrey De Serrano as Armando
Helena Mattsson as JJ the Blonde
The robotic avatars of “Surrogates” make it an interesting film that brings up a lot of social, cultural, and political ‘what-ifs.’ If you like thought-provoking sci-fi or are a fan of Bruce Willis, you’ll want to check it out.
In the near future, science and robotics have taken dramatic leaps forward in a short amount of time. The result is the development of ‘surrogates,’ robots that humans can basically remotely plug their minds into. They allow people to stay in their homes while the robots go out and interact for their operators in the real world. The owners are able to make their surrogates anything they want to be younger, prettier, a different race, or even a different gender. They’re the perfect avatar. They have also allowed the world to be come an almost crime-free utopia since nobody can be hurt.
However, someone has found a fatal flaw with the surrogates. They have developed a weapon that destroys the robot while simultaneously providing enough feedback to kill the operator. When a mystery man wielding the device kills the son of a wealthy businessman, Detectives Greer and Peters are assigned to investigate. They soon realize there’s a bigger plot going on the deeper they dig. But who would want to destroy the surrogates?
“Surrogates” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, language, sexuality and a drug-related scene.
Disney opted to screen “Surrogates” the night before the movie was released. That’s usually a sign that the film is a stinker since they know most reviewers won’t be able to write their reviews in time for the film’s release. I think they made a mistake this time around because I found “Surrogates” to be pretty entertaining.
The strength of the film is the basic idea of the technology. The idea of robotic avatars is really thought provoking. You know how a lot of people act different in their online persona than they do in their real world? What if they interacted with that avatar everywhere in the real world? Would the woman in front of you really be a woman or a fat guy in his pajamas using a female robot? Would people become addicted to the use of surrogates like they do the internet? Would people ever come out of their houses if they never had to? The film explores all that and a bit more by showing the military using surrogates in combat. The soldiers are never killed. We see police surrogates enhanced with speed and strength. We also see the political side of the issue. Some people become violently opposed to the use of the robots. The film brings up interesting cultural, social, and political questions that you don’t always see in sci-fi films these days. I think that’s what makes films like this and “District 9” memorable.
Bruce Willis is usually good in anything he does and that’s the case in his role as Greer. He plays a younger, plastic version of himself while simultaneously playing his balder, goateed, real world self. The contrast in looks really drives home the fact that the surrogates are a false front. But we see more of the surrogate world through Greer. We see him beat up and walk away from it like a Terminator. We see his surrogate do impossible leaps and bounds. But we also see the shock and sensory overload he feels when he’s permanently unplugged from his robot. You don’t think about it at first, but you soon realize he hasn’t been out of his house in years. It’s an interesting concept. Willis also has an interesting interaction with his wife Maggie who is played by Rosamund Pike. Addicted to the use of the surrogate, she refuses to interact with Greer unless it’s through the younger, more beautiful robot. It’s the ultimate plastic surgery. That leads to some tension between the two.
Also among the supporting cast is Radha Mitchell as Peters, Greer’s partner. Her character takes an interesting twist or two that I can’t get into here, but I thought Mitchell did a great job in the performance. Boris Kodjoe is also memorable as Stone, the police chief with a surrogate that looks like a supermodel. Ving Rhames is always a favorite of mine, so I enjoyed seeing him as The Prophet. His character is violently pro-human and causes all sorts of trouble for Greer. James Cromwell is always a favorite, too, but he has very little screentime.
I actually read the comic before seeing the movie. I think this is one of those rare occasions where the movie expanded on the strengths of the comic while removing many of the weaknesses. The basic plot is the same in both, but there are a number of notable differences. Greer’s partner in the comic was male, not female. The destruction of the surrogates in the comics did not kill the operators, so I think the movie inserts a bit more human jeopardy into the mix. The comic dwelled on the anti-surrogate movement a heck of a lot more while the movie wisely reduced it. Greer also has a son that died in the movie, but not in the comic. I think that helped intensify the disconnect between the husband and wife. There are other differences I can’t get into without spoiling the film, but suffice it to say that anyone that read the comic is still going to have a few surprises.
What Didn’t Work:
There are a couple of good action scenes in the movie, but anyone going into this expecting a big Bruce Willis action-adventure may be disappointed. This is more “Law & Order” with robots than “Die Hard.” The result is that the pacing can be slow at times. I personally was very into the whole concept, so I was fully engaged in the movie whether it was a quiet scene or a fast paced scene. Someone with a shorter attention span might get bored quickly.
The resolution of the murder mystery also gets a bit convoluted towards the end. If you’re not paying attention and following names and following who is operating each surrogate, you could get lost very quickly. I had to go back and think about what happened well after the movie ended to get the big picture. That reflection also meant I started seeing a few plot holes, but they were forgivable.
The Bottom Line:
Fans of sci-fi are probably going to enjoy “Surrogates” a lot more because your enjoyment of this movie will depend largely on how much you buy into the concept. Sci-fi fans, of course, are going to buy into this robotic world a lot more than other folks. Still, I think there’s enough here to entertain a wide variety of tastes. Fans of Bruce Willis and robots should give it a chance.