When I saw the previews for Surrogates, and knew there was going to be a part where everyone in a city falls dramatically to the ground at once, I was immediately sold. I love a good scene of destruction. (Anyone else excited over the entire world being destroyed in 2012? Anyone?) Plus, there was going to be Bruce Willis in full goatee rage. It was going to be awesome.
But it wasn’t. Honestly, I was very underwhelmed by Surrogates. In the near future, robotics have developed to a point where everyone can send robot versions—or “surrogates”—of themselves out into the world, where there is no way to get sick or injured, and you can look as pretty as you want to. Then someone’s surrogate is killed, and the robot’s owner is found in his home—dead. For reals. Who is doing this? How are they doing it? And why?
Well, the first question is answered, but the second is only given a vague, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it explanation. The why is the point, but I didn’t really care. I didn’t find any of the characters particularly deserving of my empathy, though Chris pointed out that by making everyone airbrushed, disconnected robots, it may have been purposeful. Still, an early death of a main character was a surprise but not heartbreaking, and Bruce Willis, while endearing enough just by being Bruce Willis, completely alienated me with his choice of surrogate haircut.
Willis plays policeman Tom Greer, put on the case of finding out what’s up with the supposedly impossible brain-implosions of humans. His only lead is a witness that he follows to the small outpost of humans who resent the surrogate lifestyle, instead living vicariously through themselves. They are an odd bunch; instead of being the heroes, they appear to be a group of violent, personality-free thugs who mostly wave around shotguns and shout “git offa my lawn!”. They are led by Ving Rhames, aka The Prophet, whose enormous dreadlocks would give you an initial happy-revolutionary feel. But he’s actually just a bastard. How did he rise to power? Who is he? Is he behind the attacks?
If there was any backstory for the characters in the movie, it could have helped. Bruce Willis and his doll-like wife Maggie, played unblinkingly by Bond Girl Rosamund Pike, have a minor tale to tell that is the same sad story heard in countless other movies about Policeman Suffering From Angst. Our Radha plays Peters, Greer’s partner, who fares much better follicly than Bruce. We know nothing about her, apart from that she lives in a house. The only other character we get to know a little about is indian-giver Canter, who created the surrogates, decided it was a bad idea after all, quit the company that made them and became a social pariah. Now he’s a recluse, and another link to the crime. He’s also, annoyingly, played by evil-since-Babe James Cromwell, aka I, Robot indian-giver Dr Alfred Lanning, who gave the world servant robots and then decided it was a bad idea and got himself thrown out of a window. That sense of déjà vu just served to remind me how much of a better movie I, Robot was, and that it is possible to make robots sympathetic characters and give sci-fi movies enough heart so you care what happens to the people within it. In Surrogates, Greer’s climactic decision comes across as selfish and unthinking more than heroic, because there simply isn’t enough emotion to work off.
There’s unanswered questions, too—where are the children? How was the one twist (which celebrated movie psychic Chris predicted, but for once chose not to share with me) hidden for so long? Does no one at all choose for their surrogates to be less-than-beautiful, or blue-haried, or plus-sized? It’s also ridiculously US-centric. During a news report at the beginning, it is noted that surrogates are now so affordable that 98% of the world can afford them. The world. More than 2% of which can’t currently afford to, you know, eat. How remote villages would have the electricity and general resources to build and recharge surrogates is beyond me, but hey, it’s fifteen years in the future—anything could happen. Do I sound cynical?
Look, it wasn’t the worst movie in existence—the scene I went to see it for was sufficiently dramatic, and there were a few interesting asides on what kind of surrogates people will pick, but it just wasn’t fleshed out enough for me. Chris gave it three out of five stars. I give it two—one for Bruce, who could just stroke his beard for an hour and half and I’d pay to watch it, half for effort, and half for being better than The Day the Earth Stood Still. The original comic, by Robert Venditti, is probably better.