Chainsaw Cheerleader Reviews: A Reader Request: Surrogates (2009)
Directed by: Jonathan Mostow
Written by: John Brancato, Michael Ferris, Robert Venditti
Cast: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe, Jack Noseworthy, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames
Genre: sci-fi, thriller, action, comic book adaption
Older Canter: Surrogacy is a perversion. It’s an addiction. And you have to kill the addict to kill the addiction.
One of the most interesting premises of the sci-fi movie genre is the film that looks into our future and slightly alters it while still connecting with the present. The film that slowly introduces certain sci-fi aspects while set against a modern backdrop gives the viewer the ability to understand the progress of that change and makes that change seem more plausible. The film that is able to produce this while not feeling like a thinly veiled variation of other films of this level is often destined to become a favorite amongst many fans of the sci-fi genre. It is for this reason that when this type of premise is squandered that the film that has done so is harshly received. The film, Surrogates is guiltily of doing just this. While built around an enthralling concept, Surrogates is weighed down by a boring generic conspiracy therapy plot that wastes the talents of its actors.
Surrogates takes place in the no-so distant future where the use of remotely-controlled androids called “surrogates” allows the public to live their lives according to their desires and in their quintessential forms. While living life through the use of robots, people remain safe in their homes. The world has become a utopia due to the fact that the surrogates have freed people of their fears, pain, and consequences. This idealized existence is shattered when the first murder in nearly a lifetime occurs. With the death of two surrogate users, FBI agent Greer (Bruce Willis) and his partner Agent Peters (Radha Mitchell) are assigned to investigate the deaths and uncover why one of the victims was Jarod Canter, the son of Dr. Lionel Canter (James Cromwell), the inventor of the surrogate robot. It is quickly determined that the deaths are part of a larger conspiracy that will force Agent Greer to leave the safety of his surrogate and face the dangers of reality in his human form.
Surrogates adds an appealing twist to the android as human concept. This twist centers around the fact of how the surrogate assumes and consumes the user’s life and identify. While the goal of the surrogate was to allow the user the ability to pursue deeper and higher levels of interest, the reality of the matter is that the user fell into a spiritual lull. Often resorting to the use and abuse of drugs or alcohol to pass the time, the user has become emotionally devoid of true human interaction. While the surrogates are the physically perfect mechanical representations of the user, their faces are mannequin like thus lacking expression. This makes it difficult to care about or feel for something that is human-like but still very non-human. There is very little reason to embrace the danger of the situation when the viewer cannot connect to the living being behind the machinery. This lack of living ultimately hurts the film as almost every action performed by the surrogates is bland. The surrogates actions or lack thereof drains the energy of the film. Coupled with high energy action scenes, the film suffers from extreme highs followed by extreme lows in concerns to the movies liveliness.
The high point of Surrogates is the idea of the robots themselves. To have the ability to go out into the world without the possibility of harm would change the very existence of life. From the safety of one’s home, an individual has the possibility to help end violence, war, and a majority of the world’s problems that plague us. The film does try to include this into its story. For example, Surrogates shows that wars are now fought through the robots and not by living soldiers. While androids rush a field with machine guns in hand, the solider controlling it is safe from harm. When the surrogate is disabled by a bullet, the controller simply logs into a new robot and continues the fight.
The low point of Surrogates is the films sub-plot. The movie is a mere eighty-eight minutes long and to insert a sub-plot takes away the needed time to help flesh out the main-plot. The sub-plot is ultimately unnecessary and adds neither depth or emotion to the film or the main character. The sub-plot centers around the strained relationship of Agent Greer and his wife, Maggie. After the death of their son, Greer never sees his wife outside of her surrogate and is often criticized by his wife about his need to interact with their human forms. The only resolution for the sub-plot is for the physical interaction between the two characters to occur. The issue with this is that it does not add to why Greer must stop the killer, how he feels about the situation or even the use of surrogates. The sub-plot may have seemed more appropriate had the film not been troubled by a lack of character development.
While this did take away from the film, having Bruce Willis play the main character added to it. Willis’ most enjoyable roles have always been the flawed hero. Sadly, Surrogates may not be the best example of this. Thankfully, Willis’ surrogate is destroyed near the beginning of the film. Dressed in a blonde wig and wearing a thick coating of pancake makeup, Willis’ surrogate is more frightening to look at than any other moment in the film. The fright of his character is only enhanced when the viewer realizes that a traditional cop cliché accompanies it. This cliché is the only real development that the Greer character is faced with. Being haunted by a dead child, a distant spouse, and being teamed with an upbeat female partner is a cliché that hurts and not helps the storyline for Greer.
Had Surrogates been written by a different team and directed by another director this comic book adaption may have fared better. The team who wrote the script is also the same team who wrote 2004’s Catwoman and the last two Terminator movies. Naming these three films should be all the information the viewer needs to know in order to understand what they are about to watch. The movie’s director, Jonathan Mostow, easily entertains in a number of fight scenes but when he tries to depict the everyday lives of the machines he relies too heavily on mainly showing them walk about in the background. Had Mostow lacked the ability to use special effects to the degree that he did it is likely that this would have hurt the film further. It is difficult to imagine if Mostow could have done as well as he did without a computers aid. While the special effects are enjoyable to watch, they lack the ability to make the viewer care or to allow them to immerse themselves into it.
While Surrogates is not a great film or a film that demands the devotion of the serious sci-fi fan, it is a wonderful movie to be used as an introduction of the sci-fi genre to a mainstream audience. The inability to present a promising premise has prevented the film from moving beyond its B-movie feel. Relying too heavily on senseless action does not conceal the fact of a poorly written script. With an underwhelming end result, Surrogates seems as it appears, mindless but still entertaining. Setting aside the fact that Surrogates squanders wonderful ideas and turns toward a generic formula too soon, it is amusing. To watch a large truck plow through a crowd of robots and to see a number of them bounce off of or pile onto the truck is somewhat hilarious. Surrogates is purely escapist fun.
Surrogates receives a 6 out of 10