Coming a couple of weeks after the so-so thriller Whiteout we have yet another movie based on a comic book, and again one that is not about superheroes, even though the more fantastical concept of Surrogates is considerably closer to recent comic adaptations of the superhero variety. Right out of the gate Surrogates (based on the comic of the same name by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele) and is guaranteed to be an improvement upon that last comic adaptation to hit cinema screens, with a central idea that could be right out of a Philip K. Dick story (Minority Report, Blade Runner and Total Recall among the numerous films based on his works), an extremely capable director in the form of Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3) and a decent cast ensemble, with Bruce Willis and Radha Mitchell taking on the leading roles. A lack of confidence on the part of the studio, as demonstrated by the decision to release the film in September – often considered a dumping ground for films with limited potential, may not do much to inspire cinema-goers to check the film out but trailers have been promising, showing off futuristic sci-fi action and the potential for a good, thought-provoking storyline – two crucial elements in futuristic sci-fi fare such as this – but does the film really stand out or like Whiteout is it just another passable piece of comic based cinema that may entertain slightly while it lasts but will leave you with no desire to ever see it again?
It’s the year 2017 and people now live their lives through surrogates – humanoid robots they can control using the power of their minds – the purpose of these surrogates being to create a safer and better world for all. Many humans now live in isolation as they command their surrogates to act out their wildest dreams, all from the comfort and safety of their own homes, never leaving their houses for real. When two people are killed while connected to their surrogates – the first murder in 15 years – the authorities are rocked by the scandal and send out FBI agents Greer (Bruce Willis) and Peters (Radha Mitchell) to investigate. Soon, the agents begin to unearth links between the homicide and the creator of the surrogate phenomenon. But when Greer is involved in a near fatal accident and his surrogate is destroyed, he is forced to bring his human self out of isolation in order to uncover the truth.
Surrogates may well face criticism from some for coming across a lot like 2004’s I, Robot and such criticisms are certainly valid (it even has James Cromwell playing the role of the creator of the machines, just like in that film). However, look past issues relating to the film’s originality and there are many positive things that can be identified. For starters, this isn’t just a leave-your-brain-at-the-door action movie but a film that manages to be quite thought provoking at times, raising a number of key issues – loss of humanity in favour of technology, the notion that anyone can be ANYONE, the replacement of people by machines in war and the decay of users in their homes while they live out their fantasies through their eternally perfect surrogate selves. Such issues are well interwoven, if not thoroughly explored, into a convincing futuristic work which, while not looking especially futuristic as a whole, despite some very good futuristic set design in places, is very believable as it really isn’t that hard to picture such a future coming to pass. The world portrayed has a certain creepiness to it resulting from the distinct artificiality and power of the surrogate machines. The surrogates (all portrayed by real actors – de-aged and perfectly flawless thanks to some CGI work, Bruce Willis being made to look like a young man once again and convincingly so) look like real people but simultaneously have an artificial appearance to them. For this reason they make very convincing machines and have a very eerie screen presence. It is quite interesting to see the stark contrast between the characters’ real selves and their surrogate selves – a good visual representation of reality vs. fantasy and what reality turns into when fantasy becomes reality. The realistic portrayal of a slightly (but not too) futuristic world works well thanks to some very good effects work and more importantly a well written script that delivers a strong storyline that allows for some action sequences (the action being pretty good if not phenomenal, and being quite sparse overall) without it ever feeling like plot is being compromised in any way. There is also a plot twist late on that may be quite surprising to some, if not everyone. Another strong point is the performers. As their characters’ surrogate selves the cast members seem quite cold, sterile and emotionless, further heightening the illusion of them not being real people, but as his character’s real self Bruce Willis really gets some pretty good stuff to work with, delivering some quite emotional sequences very well and perfectly capturing his struggle to fit into a world surrounded by machines. Radha Mitchell is also decent but sadly we only really see as her character’s surrogate self, preventing any further exploration of the character. Also of note are James Cromwell, who gets a slightly meatier role than in I, Robot, and Rosamund Pike portraying Greer’s surrogate obsessed wife. Overall, Surrogates is not the best film of its type but with it’s Philip K. Dick style vision of the future, which isn’t entirely implausible, it manages to be an interesting and entertaining piece of sci-fi action nonetheless.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
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