I’ll preface this review by saying that the original Total Recall is probably my favorite Schwartzenegger movie to date, and while it certainly had its flaws (i.e. being made in the 80s) it is a great example of how well the intelligence and depth of a Philip K. Dick Novel (Blade Runner, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau) translates on screen to create a film that is as smart as it is entertaining. The thing is, all of those movies were made well in the first place and the small flaws they had were not nearly enough to justify remaking any of them in the first place. While Total Recall (2012) may improve on some of the flaws of its predecessor and succeeds as a pretty effective action movie, it doesn’t do nearly enough to build upon its source material in order to have made it a necessary remake.
If you haven’t seen the original, here’s the gist of what its all about. We enter in on the Earth around 100 years from now, which has been ravaged by chemical warfare and left with only two zones inhabitable: The United Federation of Britain and The Colony (Australia). The two are linked by “The Fall”, a giant transport which uses the pull and reversal of gravity to send its passengers from one side of the world to another in a matter of hours. Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a factor worker who suffers from recurring dreams of a more exciting existence and an overall feeling of dissatisfaction with his lot in life. Against the wishes of his Wife (Kate Beckinsale) and best friend (Bokeem Woodbine), Quaid goes to Rekall, a place which offers to implant memories of a the life you want to live in your head for a nominal fee. As he is about to receive the memory of life as a secret agent
however, a mental scan shows that he already has those memories in his head. After government troops burst into the room and kill the Rekall attendants around him, something instinctual snaps in Quaid and he ends up killing the entire squad of troops and escaping back to his home. After his wife reveals that his is not in fact who he believes himself to be, he starts on a long and ever twisting journey to discover his true identity as well as that of the woman from his dreams (Jessica Biel).
The cast was actually quite well chosen for the film, and but the excess of action sequences highly limit the sort of character development that would have been necessary to elevate the movie above your typical mind-bending action flick. That being said, within the confines of what is expected from characters in the action genre there is more than enough to like here.
Farrell is more than adequate as the ever bewildered Quaid, but it is Beckinsale who really jumps out from the screen as a true badass. Her character’s choreography shines much brighter than her dialogue or overall development, but her fight scenes with Farrell are still some of the most enjoyable moments of the movie. Jessica Biel is also completely fine as Beckinsale’s similarly tough-as-nails counterpart, but the fight scenes between the two are few and far between and that in itself felt like a bit of a lost opportunity from an entertainment perspective.
Other than that I was a bit disappointed by the all-too-brief appearance by Bill Nighy as the Resistance leader Matthias, and while his character’s role was similarly slim in the original film I felt like the introduction of such an esteemed actor to the role would’ve merited at least a little more screen time. However, he is not the only old white guy in the film and Bryan Cranston’s Cohaagen was quite a bit more satisfying. I do wish once again that his relationship with Quaid’s past self would have been explored more as it was in the original, but as far as the actor’s handling of the character I was happy enough with it. Of course as a huge Breaking Bad fan I could see Cranston in pretty much anything nowadays and like the movie better for it, but oh well.
Remake Vs. Original:
Instead of my normal “Writing” category I’m going to substitute this one as it is crucial component in any remade film. Honestly, if I were to have watched this movie and the original side by side I may have enjoyed this one more, but that doesn’t mean that I think the 2012 version was truly a better film. The primary purpose of a remake should be to correct the wrongs of a previous film, and while Total Recall (2012) does that in the department of action and spectacle, it doesn’t do anything to improve upon or even match what made the 1990 version great. The changes to the setting were odd but at least understandable. After all, the majority of the first film not only took place on Mars but also centered around the mutations caused by early life on the planet. In the 2012 version, Mars is substituted with Australia and along with that change of venue comes a large amount of smaller changes to the villain’s motivations, the Resistance’s origins (no little man inside Matthias’ stomach this time around) and the complete elimination of Michael Ironside‘s character. As I said, these changes make sense for the most part but the real thing that drags the 2012 version down in comparison with the original is the lack of attention to the original plot points which first set it apart from other less intelligent action movies. The mind-bending twists from the 1990 version are all still there but they feel like a secondary concern to action oriented aspects of the plot. I did find it funny though that there was one scene that made me think “wow, what a knockoff of Inception” until I remembered that it was closer to the truth that Inception was a knockoff of the original Total Recall (not to mention The Matrix and several others, but I forgive you Mr. Nolan).
The Verdict: 6.5 Perfectly Adequate
I want to stress that if I were to have seen this movie with no knowledge of the original, I would probably be giving it a 7.5/10 instead. However, remakes are similar to sequels in that they have to do something truly new or impressive to differentiate them from the first and that definition set a higher bar for this film when I saw it. I am rather surprised at just how negative the reviews have been for this movie, and it makes me wonder just how much critics expected from a film directed by the man who has brought us fun yet not-so-intelligent films like the Underworld movies or Live Free Die Hard. Bottom line, don’t expect this movie to equal up to its predecessor but if you’re looking for a fun and effective action flick you should by all means give this one a view.