Despite the mixed reviews, I went into Surrogates with high hopes given that it featured three things I love: robots, Bruce Willis, and comic books. The film was adapted from a comic book and stars Bruce Willis as FBI Agent Tom Greer in a world where most of humanity lives out their lives through robotic surrogates. They sit at home, fat, lazy, and unshaven, while plugged into much better-looking robotic dopplegangers.
Not every surrogate looks like its operator, as the human counterparts are called. It seems that your surrogate can look anyway you choose, but it's a felony to operate somebody else's surrogate. We also learn that the FBI has the technology to shut off any surrogate at any time, which they do when a crime is being committed, and the crime rates have plummeted because of this.
These are the little details that I thought worked well in the movie and helped flesh out the science fiction world that they were creating. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough of this and the film instead opted to be 2/3rds action over 1/3rd sci-fi, when it really should have been the other way around.
The reason I wish they had gone deeper into the science behind it all, aside from being a sci-fi fan, is that the premise is so large in scale. We're not just talking about a cyborg or a world full of sentient robots, both of which we've seen multiple times in film. This is a world where everyone controls their own robotic counterpart, which is a whole new paradigm. The movie tries to get everyone up to speed with an expository montage that plays during the opening credits and runs you through the fifteen or so years it took to get surrogates to this point. For certain movies, this would be enough, but the idea here is so grand that it demands further exploration and we never get that.
But maybe I'm coming at this movie from the wrong angle. I want this to be hard science fiction, but it's not. It's more pulp sci-fi in that it's a detective story set to a futuristic background. When I realized that, I started to enjoy the movie a lot more. I'm not saying this is one of those "shut your brain off" action films. I simply mean that to enjoy the movie, you need to embrace the idea that there's science and robotics at work here that you just don't understand.
The actual plot of the movie involves a weapon that's capable of killing operators through their surrogates and Bruce Willis must track down the weapon in hopes of stopping the killings. Like similar movies with future pseudo-utopias, this weapon shatters the illusion of a perfect world. Greer is the man who was never fully comfortable with the idea of surrogates and along his journey he encounters plenty of people who will attest to its greatness. The moral here is that the good guy is always right.
Despite the numerous clichés, all the way up to the predictable ending, it's hard not to enjoy Surrogates on some level. It focuses too much on style, but it isn't completely devoid of substance. If you're an action fan, especially a fan of Bruce Willis, you'll love it, but if you're a science fiction fan, you'll be more than a little disappointed.
I haven't read the comic that the film is based on, but it seems like they were shooting for a deeper experience than what they ultimately pulled off. The message, which seems to be that we shouldn't shut ourselves in, is predictable, obvious, and pretty heavy-handed at times.
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