WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!
This review of Len Wiseman’s Total Recall is not a discussion of the film itself, rather a review of one story and two films. Both versions of the movie, the 1990 version filmed by Paul Verhoeven and the 2012 version filmed by Wiseman, take different approaches to the Philip K. Dick story, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”, and end with very different results.
Verhoeven decides to run with the science-fiction tale – making a fantastic environment and story involving the colonization of Mars and terrorists trying to prevent further exploitation of the Red Planet. He crafts huge characters, with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the middle of his attack on 1980’s cinema, throwing quips and baddies around effortlessly, in an ultimate showdown with Vilos Cohaagen, played devilishly by Ronny Cox.
Wiseman decides to go with a different approach to the story. Colin Farrell is in the lead role of Doug Quaid, a man who seeks to solve the puzzle of the nightmares he has been having and finds out he is a double-agent whose mind has been erased. There is no comparison between Farrell and Schwarzenegger… Arnold has better lines to quote and more fantastic characters to battle against. Not to mention, the 1990 film has a more memorable score.
Arnold also gets to spar against Ronny Cox as the evil-sneering Cohaagan, versus the quiet and contemplative Bryan Cranston in the remake. Verhoeven’s version of the story is a roller coaster ride with explosions, gunfire, and dastardly characters in a classic science-fiction movie. He takes the idea and runs with it, making every second memorable with fans cheering for more. Wiseman’s version also has a lot of action, but slows down with contemplative moments which really slow the flow of the movie rather than blowing your mind over and over.
The remake is centralized upon The Fall, a hole in the ground connecting the countries of the UK and Australia, referred to as “The Colony”, with our hero making the quick commute through the center of the earth to work on crafting robotic soldiers, while married to Lori (Kate Beckinsale), a woman who seems far too attractive and interesting to be married to a blue-collared factory man. This is the same premise as Verhoeven’s film, but instead of heading to Mars and liberating another planet to inhabit for colonization, the story is centered around the UK overtaking The Colony. In no part of the movie is it mentioned what the importance of taking over the colony is, and the need to make Quaid a double agent isn’t for some secret that will change all humanity, just that he knows a kill code over the robotic army and can lead to the terrorist’s leader, Matthias (played by Bill Nighyin such a minor role it’s almost forgettable).
Bryan Cranston plays the bad guy in this version of Total Recall and I am not sure if he really had an impact on the film. In a good movie the world should be impacted by the villain’s influence. I should be cheering on the hero to overcome great obstacles and bring him down. This world should be plastered with terrorists trying their best to bring him down in a series of battles shaking up the status quo. Instead, we get mention of a bombing on the news and a few folks getting arrested for grafitti. In trying to sell the idea of a post-apocalyptic future, it feels like any downtown, just with levels of highways and lens flare. Lens flare everywhere.
I wanted this movie to make me forget the 1990 Total Recall. I wanted Wiseman to take the ideas and expand upon Dick’s original story. We did get nods to the Blade Runner visual style and some of the fighting did seem along the Bourne Supremacy style with close-ups of intense hand-to-hand combat, but Len failed to put his stamp in this movie. I did not feel excited about a hero battling robots and police, nor concern for his sidekick, Jessica Biel as Melina, as they tried to bring down Cohaagan. The need for a remake is confusing. Nothing new was presented or explored in this movie. Movies that drop you into a new world, as an outsider trying to move through a different point of view, should have some kind of ending you aspire to. I don’t know if there was a real resolution to the expansion into The Colony, this movie just ends with the crashing of a giant elevator.
Paul Verhoeven made a fun and exciting movie based on Philip K. Dick’s story, named it Total Recall, and left a lasting impression on the audience. Len Wiseman made his own Total Recall with the same source material, made an acceptable movie, but it didn’t transcend the first interpretation or give us something new to consider.
I would give this movie 2.5 nerdskulls out of five.
See the trailer here: