Total Recall (2012)

Okay, so here’s the laconic review of the Total Recall remake: visually impressive, but lacks the heart of the original. Now you can go home.

Wait! I was just kidding, don’t go! Some of my friends go to great lengths to tell me that my reviews are too long, so I was experimenting with short form. Stick around and I will tell you why this film lacks the heart of the original, how visually impressive it is, and whether the remake is still worth seeing. See? Isn’t that worth a measly 300 credits?

Have you seen the original? That is the first question to ask, but really not that important. Sure, there are a few in-jokes, some of them pretty funny, that you’ll miss without seeing the original first. Despite that problem, however, the film does stand on it’s own two feet. The story has been changed from being about revolution on Mars to revolution between a strong economic power and the ‘third-world’ in a future devastated by chemical warfare. Now, instead of traveling through space, people ride a giant subway through the center of the Earth. Yes it’s true, but it’s not as dumb as it sounds. Basically it uses gravity to accelerate this subway, called ‘The Fall’, for the first half of the trip and then needs a lot less energy during the second half. Kinda neat, if one over looks the incredible engineering requirements to make a tunnel through the center of the Earth.

Anyway, the conflict is between the residents of the only two remaining inhabitable parts of the planet: Britain and Australia. Britain has become the ‘United Federation of Britain’, and is rich, advanced, and naturally corrupt. Their only problem is lack of living space as population keeps increasing. Australia is ‘The Colony’ and much poorer despite lots of living space, because most of the people take the train through the center of the Earth to commute to work in Britain.

From here it’s pretty similar to the original: guy tries to get fake memories for fun, might have real ones that conflict, lots of chases, and a fight between the evil government and nice rebels. Unlike watching the original, which came out in 1990, as I watched the terrorist tactics of the rebels in this remake I wondered at possible unfavorable comparisons to modern terrorist groups. Bombings and the like, but the movie avoids this moral situation by shifting the focus and also making the government completely evil.

Enough background, let’s answer those three points from earlier. Yes, this remake does lack the human element that made the first Total Recall engaging. Although most of us are pretty sure that Colin Farrell is a better actor than Schwarzenegger, he never managed to reach the same level of emotional vulnerability that we saw in the original. Yes, I’m claiming that Schwarzenegger somehow displayed his vulnerable side in the original, which is why it might be a classic and my favorite of his films. The only other movie where I think he managed to do that was Conan the Barbarian but he was still more relatable in Total Recall.

Because of the differences between our lead actors the journey becomes very different as well. With Schwarzenegger we were never that afraid he might lose a fight or fail to save the day, our fear was more centered around him being hurt emotionally, whether by people he cared about or by discovering it was all a dream. Because Farrell is not Mr. Action Star, we actually do wonder sometimes if he can survive, and so the movie focuses more on survival and success than whether or not the whole thing is real. It plays out like a sci-fi version of The Bourne Identity rather than a Total Recall remake.

While the supporting cast does a passable job, they fail to capture the vibrant life of the people in the original. They combined the Richter and Lori role into one for Kate Beckinsale, and she does fine, but is not as engaging as they were separately. Jessica Biel barely gets any screen-time, let alone development, as Melina. Finally, fans of Breaking Bad will be disappointed by how little Bryan Cranston gets to show off his acting chops. The news is not all bad, I can safely report that the Three-Breasted-Woman shows up, but is played by a much more attractive actress. She actually did make me wish that I had three hands. Still, overall I have to give the win to the original.

Visually this movie is impressive. Everything looks great, although Minority Report and I, Robot did it first and years earlier. Also we have Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel in this film, the win is most definitely with the remake. Sure, Sharon Stone was hot back in the day, the actress who played Melina was alright, but Beckinsale/Biel wins this one hands down. For the ladies out there, I’m sure you all will appreciate Colin Farrell, if he’s your cup of tea. The remake also does one other thing really well: chase scenes. Considering that about seventy-five percent of this film is comprised of chase scenes, it’s a good thing that Len Wiseman manages to do them well. Although the original was visually impressive for it’s time, and still holds up well, the remake does manage to give us more impressive visuals, whether of the computer generated or female variety.

Overall, I have to admit that he original Total Recall is better by far. This remake is unlikely to be a classic, and seems to be under-performing at the box office as well, too bad. Despite coming up short by comparison, on its own merits this was still a fun movie. It never really drops the ball, was fun to watch, and delivered a cool setting. I’m a sucker for cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk stories, and there are not nearly enough movies that use those genres. Now we have another addition to the ranks, so success or failure aside, I’m glad they made this film. I recommend seeing it, if only because it’s nice to see a fun action film with sci-fi instead of superhero elements. After this last summer it might be just the change of pace you need.

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