People are living their lives remotely from the safety of their own homes via robotic surrogates—sexy, physically perfect mechanical representations of themselves. It’s an ideal world where crime, pain, fear and consequences don’t exist. When the first murder in years jolts this utopia, FBI agent Greer (Bruce Willis) discovers a vast conspiracy behind the surrogate phenomenon and must abandon his own surrogate, risking his life to unravel the mystery. (from MovieWeb.com)
In 2005, director Michael Bay presented audiences with blockbuster The Island, a film that blended a great sci-fi premise involving human cloning with Bay's characteristic over-the-top action sequences. While the story was a thought-provoking one about cloning and the definition of when a life is considered a life, Bay's execution was schizophrenic at best. For 2009, director Jonathan Mostow (U-571, Terminator 3) offers Surrogates, a story about people enlisting the aid of robots to allow them to live their lives virtually. Mostow's direction is considerably more consistent, and the end result is a pretty satisfying sci-fi action thriller.
In Surrogates, Bruce Willis plays FBI agent Tom Greer, one of the billion people living in the world through the use of a robot surrogate. With this robotic host, people can live carefree and without concern for injury, disease, or even death. The world has become a cold and vain place to live in, despite being almost crime free at the same time. So when two surrogates turn up dead, with their hosts also having been killed in the process, Greer decides to get to the bottom of it. What unfolds is a murder mystery that involves tracing things back to the source of the robots, the fanatics who oppose surrogacy altogether, and the possible annihilation of all surrogate users. Mostow does a fine job balancing the action, story, and even human element in this unique sci-fi flick.
It may be tempting to write off Surrogates as I, Robot meets Terminator meets The Island, but the film is done in such a way that it feels rather fresh throughout. Willis may kick things into action gear at times here, but he refrains from giving audiences a fifth outing of John McClain or too many of your typical Willis moments (he's a little bit more like Jack Mosely from 16 Blocks here instead). Greer is tormented by the loss of a child and the distance that has grown between him and his wife, Maggie, who has sought solace from her loss in the immersion of her surrogate life. While the story gives literal illustration to the escapism of technology and getting lost in entertainment or the dangers of living for pleasure, there's certainly a real danger to the way people tend to find ways to hide from the pains and stresses of life. While Greer was dealing with an actual robot as direct separation from his wife, it's sadly not unrealistic for people to build similar proverbial walls when avoiding dealing with pain or relationship tensions.
It's difficult to discuss the plot and content of Surrogates without giving much away. As far as content goes, and be warned, there may be a little bit of spoiling going on here for some of you, the worst of the violence is when we see the aftermath of how people die while connected to their surrogate. We see the robot victims with blown out eyes, which then leads to the actual human having blood running from their eyes, ears, and mouth. The blood often looks black when shown, but there is at least one time we see it shown as a vivid red. It could have been shown more explicitly, but it's still rather intense here. The bulk of the violence is robot-related. The robots look very realistic as humans, so it's almost as if the violence is being done to humans. We see a robot surrogate with its arm blown off, and spurting green liquid from the wound. Another time, we see a robot shot in the head which then oozes such green goop through its head of hair. A couple other times, we see robots wounded or severed with robotic parts showing through the human-looking body and some green goo around the metallic pieces. In another instance, a human punches and kicks the face of a surrogate until its human-like face has torn off, revealing the robotic face. Another non-violent but creepy shot shows a beautician removing a surrogate's human-like face (to have cosmetic work done to it. This is the shot in all the trailers and commercials of it being placed on, but it's actually reversed in the film). We see several shots of robots' eyes blow out like glass, and there's a mass shot of human-like surrogates just laying lifeless on the ground with their eyes open. Although entirely nongraphic, it's a bit disturbing and rather creepy. Lastly, language and sexuality. The trailer - to me - eluded to a possible great deal of sexuality. Thankfully, there's just some sensuality when we see a bunch of surrogates dancing in a nightclub and two of them emerge kissing and groping a bit, but the extent of it ends there. For language, there's very little, but there are a few "s" words, a use (or two) of "J-sus," and a couple other colorful words or phrases. It could have done without even what was included, but it's surprisingly light for such a movie.
For a sci-fi action thriller with a murder mystery angle and even some food for thought, Surrogates excels where many such movies these days seem to fail. However, its content - especially the violence - limit its audience considerably and warrant the exercise of caution before viewing. Some of the images will certainly stick with some more than others. The trailer is a pretty good example of the kind of content you're going to see, but ultimately, expect it to be an intense ride (especially for those sensitive to violence). When all was said and done, it was great to see Willis at it again in a new action role which brought enough human element to his character not to feel as lifeless as the surrogates themselves. Kudos to Mostow for another strong action film.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 9/26/09)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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