Short Version: While not as smart as it could be, Surrogates is thought provoking and mildly entertaining.
Screen Rant reviews Surrogates
Bruce Willis’ latest (semi-)action movie is Surrogates, a thought provoking look at the idea of taking our virtual/avatar online selves to a whole other level. In the film, it has been 14 years since Lionel Canter (James Cromwell) developed the first generation of a technology that allowed robots to be controlled completely via thought. We are briefly shown the stages of the development and integration of the technology over ensuing years, leading to present day (some time in the near future in the film).
The “Surrogate” (or “Surrey”) technology became so advanced and its use so widespread that eventually almost everyone now has their own personal robotic duplicate. What’s the point, you ask? Well these duplicates (which of course are idealized versions of the real person, or perhaps a completely different “fantasy” personage) go out into the world and interact with other people via their surrogates. In the film, due to 98% of the worlds population using surrogates, crime has plummeted and people are able to lead more supposedly satisfying lives – able to engage in all sorts of dangerous and risky behavior with no fear of getting hurt.
Bruce Willis plays Tom Greer, an FBI agent brought in to investigate the destruction of two surrogates. With the ultra-low crime rate this is an unusual event – moreso due to the effects of the destruction: Burnt out “eyes” on the units. Things get more complicated when it’s discovered that the human operators of these surrogates died from as a result of the “death” of their robots. This is a very big deal as one of the main selling points of the robots is the fact that there is no chance of injury whatsoever to the operator.
The main plot of the film is Greer attempting to find out who is behind the weapon because it could bring mass chaos to a world that has become completely dependent on the technology.
Greer is married but has suffered a great loss not long ago – the result of this is that his wife Maggie (Rosamund Pike) will not leave her room, but will only eveer be “seen” in the guise of her perfect, surrogate self. Greer is weary of living life virtually, hooked up to the equipment in his room and never leaving his home. That is how everyone lives now – interacting with each other only via their perfect-looking surrogates, while in reality sequestering themselves alone at home.
There are groups of people in every major city living in self-restricted compounds called human reservations. They think that this “virtual life” via surrogates is an abomination and want humanity to return living as we were intended. These people are led by a “messiah” called The Prophet – played by Ving Rhames, who is not who he appears to be.
The movie is based on a comic book miniseries written by Robert Venditti which I haven’t read – so how faithful it is to the source material overall, I don’t know (other than the ending deviates from the comic in a typical movie “happy ending” sort of way). It’s an intriguing concept – extrapolating from people’s growing dependence today on sites like Facebook and Twitter as well as virtual communities where you only exist to others via your online avatar (I read recently that now every one out of five minutes online are spend on social networking sites).
Unfortunately it’s very difficult to connect with the film in any way since most of the time the characters on screen are the CGI-enhanced, overly perfect surrogate versions of the actors. I did like the slightly artificial look and sheen of the surrogates, but the flip side is that as these characters they were stiff and could not emote very well. As a counterpoint to this uber-perfection it seemed like the film over compensated in the “real person” department, making the people in the film (too not put too fine a point on it) really ugly. Then again I suppose if you never had any reason to EVER leave your home, you wouldn’t worry so much about such niceties as shaving, showering every day, putting on makeup if you’re a woman, etc.
So in the end, it was an interesting concept but the execution left me a bit cold – while it could have been a film that sticks with you for a while, instead it was kind of forgettable. I’d say it’s worth a rental when it comes out on DVD.