Following the Hollywood trend of adapting graphic novels to the big screen comes “Surrogates,” a smart sci-fi adventure that may resemble other films but delivers it in a completely original way with a strong story that emotionally engages you. Borrowing elements from films like “Terminator,” “Matrix,” “Minority Report” and heavily from “I Robot” the movie has the ability to take all those elements and present them in a fresh and entertaining manner. It’s important to remember that the movie is based on a comic book so it can hardly be blamed for resembling other movies when that’s the story from the comic this is based on. That being said I felt the film presented a realistic and entertaining story with a tight script and another fantastic performance from the outstanding yet often underrated Bruce Willis.
Taking place in the not so distant future the opening credits of the film explain, in an excellent fashion similar to the opening of Zach Snyder’s “Watchman” earlier this year, the alternate reality that the film takes place in. In this future, people are living their lives through remote operated robotic avatars that they control from their homes. They don’t leave their houses and interact so there are no crimes and no sexual disease in this peaceful utopia. The Surrogates also allow people to look and be who ever they want or as young and good looking, as they like. However not everyone agrees with this lifestyle so there are outside factions in every major city that live in quarantine sections like refugees.
One of these rebel groups is led by the Prophet, played with integrity and believability by the always-great Ving Rhames. When a surrogate is murdered, the first in years, by a strange weapon that kills the human host as well as the robot, FBI agent Greer (Willis) is called in to investigate. Once it is discovered that the host was the son of the inventor of the surrogates (James Cromwell, who coincidentally also played the inventor of the robots in I Robot) Greer quickly realizes that there is more to this than meets the eye. Radha Mitchell gives a strong performance opposite Willis as his partner, Agent Peters. The agents end up finding the murderer with the special gun and chase him in to the robot free zone presided over by the Prophet. Against orders, Greer enters, eventually getting his surrogate destroyed. Barely avoiding death, and now without a surrogate, the slightly older looking Greer must venture out into a world he has not seen in years and not only find the weapon before it kills more hosts but also get to the bottom of a conspiracy that might lead him to question everything he knows.
Although the movie has fantastic effects and cool robots it’s really the storyline and strong performances from both Willis and Rosamund Pike who plays his wife, that make the film worthwhile. As the story goes on, we discover that there has been a rift between the two for sometime due to a tragedy in there past and they have both been using surrogates to mask their pain. You really feel Greer’s pain through Willis’ performance and it is this emotional center that grounds the film. Once Greer is on his own, and incapable of using his surrogate, a scene where he tries to convince his wife to do the same is especially moving. One interesting thing to note: Willis plays his surrogate as a younger version of himself with a smooth face and full head of hair but when he plays the real Greer it is the shave-headed, weathered, present day Willis that audiences are used to. However in contrast, most of the other actors portray the surrogates the way they usually look and are instead aged to play the host versions of their selves. Nonetheless, all the affects are well done and believable.
For fans of the comic, be warned, the movie differs from the graphic novel in many ways. But in my opinion, it utilizes the heart of the material and may have even transcended it to a better piece of story telling. I always felt the dark nature of the artwork in the comic distracting to the story and director Jonathon Mostow’s tone and style for the film is captivating and appropriate for the material. This may be Mostow’s best film to date. As opposed to the comic, the film takes place in Boston rather than a fictional city. This addition adds a real life element to the film that helps make the over-the-top sci-fi elements of the movie easier to swallow. Another change is the addition of Greer’s partner, Agent Peters in the film. This addition allows for more possibilities when it comes to the overall conspiracy and the mystery Greer is trying to solve. Also a welcomed change was the choice to increase the role of Greer’s wife, who doesn’t appear until the end of the comic. In general the writer’s did the right thing, they adapted the heart of the material into a strong cinematic story that audiences can understand.
Another great sequence in the film is when Greer, now without a surrogate and on suspension from the FBI for going into the forbidden zone in the first place, travels back in his own body to look for the weapon. He confronts the Prophet and what he discovers will both surprise you and make your head spin at the same time. The effects in the film are done both tastefully and realistically and are at there best when we see the surrogates in action. A fight scene between Greer and a surrogate later in the film really shows off what the surrogates can do and was well done by the production team.
Overall the film captures the heart of the comic and sci-fi films from the past in an original way that is fun to watch. Willis gives another excellent performance and it reminds me of just how underrated of an actor he really is. Perhaps it’s because of his mega-movie star persona or his bigger than life personality that have overshadowed his work but film after film, even the bad ones which this is not, Willis is always completely believable and entertaining to watch. Whether it be action, comedy, dramas or thrillers, Willis always carries the film and grounds it in a way that makes you want to watch him and root for him to win.
“Surrogates” is a very well done film working off of an extremely tight screenplay by John Brancato and Michael Ferris. Fans of the comic will not be disappointed by this loose adaptation that captures all the mystery and intrigue of the book but presents it in a new and interesting way. Where some movies can lose you with all the twists and turns in a sci-fi film like this, Surrogates is able to explain it to you in a way that is clear to follow and pays off ten fold in the end.