That set my expectations well and resulted in me being pleasantly surprised by the film, because although it does feel a little like the usual science fiction lighter fare, there seems to be something a little more to Surrogates, and it looks as though the director might have learned something from putting the Terminator franchise on a downwards spiral.
Many are calling Surrogates out for being dull, play by the numbers and even complete rubbish. I don't wholly agree. It's a pretty solid film that has some nice touches to it and some clever insights. Sure there are problems, but it's a pretty good science fiction film.
However some people don't live like that, small groups have grown who don't believe in using Surrogates, they believe that using these robots distance people from real emotional connections, and that they make them forget the real meaning behind life. They've organised themselves, grouped together and joined up behind a charasmatic leader intent on bringing down the world of the Surrogates.
When Surrogates start being destroyed and their operators found dead in the chairs that controlled them, killed despite all the failsafes in the computer systems that should keep them alive, one policeman begins to uncover something bigger than just a few strange deaths, and begins to remember what it is to be human.
Surrogates is above the average film that many people say, I think it's doing it a disservice by saying it isn't. Sure it could be a lot better, and there are problems with it which I'll come to, but for the most part it's an entertaining film that does okay. Now take it from me because I really do hold a big grudge against Jonathan Mostow for what he did to the Terminator franchise with the joke of a third film, so he's not my favourite director, and yet I thought more of Surrogates than most, even if it didn't totally hit the mark.
The film starts off with a very stylish introduction that brings us from our present day to the starting place for the Surrogates story, and this really started to lift my hopes for the film.
That style continued on into the film itself and most notably with the design and effects that makes the robots look slightly off, slightly plasticy and when put next to real people your eyes pick them out for having a clean sort of sheen. It's something that is added to by the choice of giving Bruce Willis a rather good hairpiece. Seriously.
It's a nice way of portraying the robots, and it's not just all effects and makeup, there's a way that the actors portray the robots with a limited range of emotions that helps them feel a little less like humans, and when we do see their human counterparts they are very real and are suffering from their life indoors and from continually lying around living a disconnected life.
One of the hinted at, but never properly explored aspects of the Surrogates is the agoraphobia and enochlophobia that Bruce Willis' character experiences when he walks around in the real world and bumps into surrogates all around him, surrogates who, since they have computer systems that ensure they avoid each other, don't hit anyone else but him, and everyone seems confused.
Willis' character, Tom Greer, is overwhelmed by the feelings, the sounds and the sights, and the things he has to deal with that the computers once shielded him from. It's an interesting aspect to the characters but it's brushed over all too quickly and he's suddenly all okay with the problems.
It's not the only interesting idea or theme brought up in the film, nor is it the only one that remains unexplored and just referenced. It's actually something that I really like about films like this, the fact that they don't explore and explain every idea, but we do like to see them at least developed a little and fleshed out. In Surrogates the ideas are just not explored enough.
Story-wise it's a good one that plays out well, but it really does lack the punch of any twist and turns that do anything more than just what you expect.
You might be confused by that last statement, since there are no twists and turns why do they deliver what I expected? Well to the writer and director there are some surprises and twists to the story, but when you're sitting watching them they are completely by the numbers and don't deliver anything that surprises, and that really hurts the film.
There are some good action sequences in the film though, and with some great effects, giving me very similar feelings to it as I got from Terminator Salvation (Filmstalker review), albeit without the stupid, franchise killing comedy that the director bestowed on it.
Bruce Willis is good, he's not overplaying it or giving himself over to the standard Die Hard confused cop character, and he gives a good performance, especially in the more intelligent parts of the film and not where he's just following the story line.
It is interesting to see the journey of Willis' character through the film, and the strongest parts when he has to first deal with the real world and when he hits back at the surrogate world, however both aren't long enough for the film.
It's not a bad film, and it's definitely not what the critics are saying about it. There's a good story to it with some clever moments and ideas, just not executed well enough. The action moments are great, and it lives well with what Mostow can produce, again like Terminator Salvation.
However it fumbles ideas and doesn't explore the clever aspects and the interesting questions about our reliance on technology and the disassociated with humanity that it brings up. Rather, it prefers to sit on the fence and concentrate on the entertainment, and doesn't stray far from the expected formulaic choices.
Good performances, good ideas, but not well executed and not many surprises.