World of Warcraft. Star Wars Galaxies. Lord of the Rings Online. City of Heroes. Ultima Online. Everquest.
People will do just about anything to be someone else. Hell, Second Life even charges real money to adopt an avatar and live life as someone else. Imagine if people could do that in everyday life. Imagine the chance to live as a perpetually young, strong, sexually desirable, confident, charismatic individual. In our society where many average, “ordinary” people hang on the actions and interactions of celebrities, who could resist the chance to live like one of them?
This is the premise for Surrogates. Life with a cyborg replacement through which the user feels every sensation, every relationship, without ever showing who they really are. In this not-so-distant future, military personnel, law enforcement and damn near everyone have chosen to put humans safely out of the way in exchange for the physical superiority of the Surrogates. The FBI uses Surrogates in the field, lowering the chance of physical harm to its field agents. Two of these agents are the veteran, Tom Greer and his partner, Peters.
The mysterious death of two Surrogates leads the Feds to a case that changes their lives, and those of every operator. The two Surrogates have been rendered completely useless, fried from the inside, and, for the first time ever, the operators died when their Surrogates did. The possibility of dying while online is a dangerous proposal in a world where 98% of the population has adopted the use of a Surrogate. The remaining 2% represents pockets of anti-Surrogate humans, living on Dread Reservations, led by a man called The Prophet.
Greer’s chase leads him face-to-face with the bearer of the mysterious new weapon and his Surrogate opens the floodgates for a war between man and machine. He abandons the use of a Surrogate altogether, largely due to his wife’s obsession with her artificial replacement, and the loss of his son. Greer now finds himself, his human self, in a world of robotic constructs, chasing down who has created this weapon, and why they choose to unleash it on Surrogates and humans alike.
Surrogates is a well-paced, well-written, action flick. Greer’s investigation takes several unexpected turns, and the underlying social commentary maintains momentum throughout the film. What are humans willing to sell off, and at what cost?
Bruce Willis is great as Greer; tapping into his action film past (Die Hard, The Jackal) while anchoring himself in the unknown (Sixth Sense, Unbreakable). He manages to maintain human emotions, whatever form he takes. Radha Mitchell (Pitch Black, Silent Hill) is delightful as Peters. She embraces the persona of a sidekick, hard-charging in her own way, but willing to let Greer take the helm on the investigation. The only underwhelming performance in the cast is that of Ving Rhames, whose character is not often seen, but plays a pivotal piece in the puzzle. For a borderline fanatic, he seems too passive.
Credit KNB EFX with the great juxtaposition of humans and robots in the film. The Surrogates appear as cover models; just a bit inhuman, Photoshopped and consistently a step too pretty. When the human population appears, it’s a sampling of ordinary, suburban people…the kind of people who would love to be cover models, adding credibility and dynamics to the story.
Surrogates is an adaptation of the brilliantly written graphic novel by Robert Venditti. The book delves deeper into the characters and provides a truckload of supporting information. It’s also a lot darker, without the Hollywood happiness or need to tie things together quite so neatly. If the film has a flaw, it’s the darkness and deep passion of the book.