Surrogates (2009)

Surrogates is what happens when you give a smart idea to people who aren’t quite sure what to do with it. The idea in this case involves a future where everyone lives their lives through avatars — perfect versions of themselves immune from disease and injury — remotely controlled while the user lies down in a chair with some tanning glasses placed on their eyes. There is so much that can be done with this idea, but what we get is a generic action movie that more or less completely ignores it. It’s such a waste that I was infuriated while watching the movie.

Surrogates stars Bruce Willis as an FBI agent with the last name of Greer. He and his partner, Agent Peters (Radha Mitchell), begin the film investigating the death of two people who were connected to their surrogates at the time of death. Somehow, the surrogates did not protect them from being murdered, as the murderer used a weapon that shut down the surrogate and murdered the user. This is an impossibility, the people who made the surrogates claim, although we know that’s a fabrication. Eventually, Greer’s surrogate is neutralized and he has to go in without the protection of his avatar.

Chase scenes and shootouts follow, as does one major plot twist that you’ll see coming from a mile away. The interesting elements, like the rebellious group known as the Dreads — people who dislike the concept of surrogates and have been given a reservation where only flesh-and-bone humans are allowed inside — really should have factored in a lot more. The whole draw to the film, which could have actually made the movie interesting, is ignored in favor of action scenes starring Bruce Willis.

Not that having Bruce Willis action scenes hasn’t worked in the past, but this material begs for something more to be done than just skimming the surface of its universe. It needed to be more like Blade Runner, crafting a world that we want to learn everything about. What it does is set a generic action picture inside of a place that feels more like a backdrop than a fleshed-out reality. It doesn’t really matter that surrogates exist, as the weapon could be any generic MacGuffin and fulfill the same function.

What I’m saying is that the whole “surrogates” aspect of Surrogates winds up making little impact on the story that the filmmakers want to tell, which is a big problem when that’s your major conceit. Apart from a subplot involving Greer’s surrogate-addict of a wife (Rosamund Pike), all of the action scenes are straight out of other action movies. The ending sequence didn’t need everyone to be connected to a surrogate, as a nuke would have just as easily worked, save for one decision that you will, once again, see coming, which will be a last-ditch attempt to make the film’s point get through, even though it had been ignored for most of the movie up until that point.

Admittedly, watching good looking people have basic superpowers is kind of enjoyable to watch — seeing Radha Mitchell jumping from the roofs of buses and cars is pretty awesome, I supposed — but it doesn’t serve any function apart from being awesome. When the concept of the film is laid out to you at the begging, your mind starts considering all of the implications of a world where 99% of the people you meet are going to be using a surrogate that may or may not even look like them. So much could be done with this simple idea, but hardly anything gets explored in this movie.

There is some of it within Surrogates, but it’s the wrong kind of exploration. There’s a scene in the middle that shows us that there are drugs that the surrogates can take which impact the user — I think it was called “jacking” by one of the characters — but who really cares about that? I mean, of all the societal factors that would be impacted by replacing everyone with remote-controlled androids, this is what had to be shown? Really?

Bruce Willis is always fun to watch, but here he just looked tired a whole lot. Sure, that’s intentional, as we need to be able to see the difference between him, a normal human, and the surrogates, the picture of perfection, but it’s just not much fun. Willis isn’t given much more to do than chase after seemingly everyone he comes into contact with, and it’s a shame to see his character be so two-dimensional.

Everything falls into routine and formula, and there really isn’t going to be anything here that will surprise you. Even though we haven’t seen this exact movie before — similar ones, sure, but different in at least a few ways — you’ll figure everything out far quicker than the filmmakers want you to, and you’ll make up your mind about whether surrogates are good or bad long before the film’s done preaching. It gets boring by the end, even though Surrogates is only plays for around 90 minutes.

Surrogates is a boring, routine action movie that knows it’s bad and will only end up wasting 90 minutes of your life. It introduces a very interesting concept, but does nothing of importance with it. It could have been set in modern day, without any of the future technology, and would have been practically the same film. I’m left only with one question after watching it: If 99% of the world is already using the surrogate system, why is every single advertisement we see about it? Surely the money wouldn’t be worth trying to convert the 1% who have decided to abstain. I only hope you side with the 1% and stay away from Surrogates.

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