‘Total Recall’ Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated November 26th, 2014 at 6:52 pm,

Colin Farrell Total Recall 2012 Total Recall Review

The director’s attempt at re-imagining Philip K. Dick’s story will present action/sci-fi lovers with a compelling (albeit thin) sci-fi world to explore.

When the Total Recall “remake” was first announced in 2009, the producers were clear on one thing: in spite of the 1990 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, this movie would offer a different (albeit still loose) interpretation of iconic sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” Nevertheless, the collective moviegoing community exploded in a near-universal chorus of outrage, and in the coming months, as director Len Wiseman began sharing his vision for the project, more and more fans continued to rail against the idea on principle alone – calling it an “unnecessary cash grab” and decrying the idea of an alternate Total Recall story interpretation, one that didn’t feature Mars, mutants, aliens, or Schwarzenegger.

As a result, it’s safe to say that anyone who is fundamentally against this film based solely on the fact that it’s a remake, isn’t likely to be impressed by what Wiseman has put together. However, does Total Recall (2012) – despite similarities to its namesake – offer an interesting and action-packed reinterpretation of the core concept – an everyday man wrestling with his grip on reality and sense of self?

Fortunately, the answer is yes.

While Wiseman’s Total Recall includes a number of familiar story beats and fun nods to its predecessor, it also presents plenty of fresh material that should deliver an enjoyable (although somewhat thin) experience for fans who aren’t too bogged down in comparing/contrasting the film with Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 treatment. Anyone who has been following the movie’s trailers (or seen the original) will already be privy to a number of the film’s biggest “reveals,” but there are still plenty of explosive set pieces and tongue-in-cheek one-liners to make the moment-to-moment onscreen action immersive and enjoyable. Without question, Total Recall is skewed heavily in favor of style over substance – but that shouldn’t dissuade cinemagoers from taking a trip to Rekall with leading man Colin Farrell.

Jessica Biel Colin Farrel Total Recall Total Recall Review

Jessica Biel and Colin Farrell in ‘Total Recall’

As mentioned, the story differs in a number of ways from both the original film and Dick’s short story source material. The “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” narrative still serves as the film’s outline, though, and unlike the 1990 version, Wiseman’s story remains grounded entirely on Earth. This round Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) lives in a post-World War III society where tensions flare between the last two habitable places on the planet: The rich United Federation of Britain and the impoverished Colony (Australia). Quaid is a blue-collar factory worker who commutes (via a massive transit system called “The Fall”) from The Colony to the UFB, where he assembles synthetic Police robots before making the return trip home each night to his lovely wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale). Ultimately, Quaid isn’t content with this mundane existence, and is haunted by dreams of a mysterious woman (played by Jessica Biel), as well as a life with actual purpose. In an effort to scratch his itch for excitement, he visits Rekall to have artificial memories implanted in his mind – only to discover that, unbeknownst to him, he’s already an instrumental player in a much larger threat.

While some fans will most likely miss the campy (and, at times, visually arresting) aesthetic of Verhoeven’s Total Recall, Wiseman’s interpretation plays all of the sci-fi plot material with a very straight face. Despite a number of witty remarks, the film takes itself extremely seriously, and with the exception of select hat tips to the first film, works hard to ground events in a believable vision of 2084. Certain elements still offer eye-popping visuals (such as The Colony skyline and “hover car” effects) but this Total Recall puts most of its effort into nonstop action – which should easily be apparent after the third multifaceted chase sequence. Similarly, the film provides several slick hand-to-hand combat scenes and loads of stylish sci-fi gadgetry (get ready to trade in your iPhone) that should keep genre fans happy.

 Total Recall Review

Futuristic action and Sci-fi effects in ‘Total Recall’

That said, with all the flash and bang action, character development takes a back seat. For the most part, Farrell delivers a strong leading man performance that allows Quaid to be likable – even though the character is mostly a blank slate, scrambling to uncover his true identity. He’s empathetic enough, especially when faced with other people who seemingly know him – despite his inability to reciprocate. Less forgivable is the supporting stable of characters who are mostly one-note killing machines. While both Biel and Beckinsale successfully offer solid (as well as butt-kicking) performances – there isn’t much to either character beyond their function in eliciting different reactions from Quaid or moving the plot from point A to point B. Similarly, fan-favorite Bryan Cranston doesn’t disappoint, but his character, Cohaagen, is sorely underused – given the role he plays.

The prevalence of thin but hard-hitting character archetypes is in keeping with much of Wiseman’s directorial repertoire (which includes the first two Underworld films as well as Live Free or Die Hard) – as is the filmmaker’s reliance on the aforementioned slick action over thought-provoking substance. The overarching Total Recall 2012 story concept is serviceable – since the premise (along with the core concept) is actually pretty compelling; however, as the movie tracks from one lengthy chase/gun battle/fist-fight sequence to the next, there isn’t much room to build upon the rich world that’s introduced in the opening. Thematic elements (tension between “The Haves” and “The Have Nots”)  as well as philosophical questions (“What defines who we are?”) are quickly glossed over with overly-cheesy, throwaway lines of dialogue – failing to “say” anything particularly interesting about several ideas the movie develops.

Bryan Cranston Kate Beckinsale Total Recall Total Recall Review

Bryan Cranston and Kate Beckinsale in ‘Total Recall’

Certain moviegoers will argue that Total Recall was an entirely unnecessary remake (i.e., a ‘cash-grab’) – but there are enough differences to justify Wiseman’s effort. While not all of these ideas are successful, the director’s attempt at re-imagining Philip K. Dick’s story will present action/sci-fi lovers with a compelling (albeit thin) sci-fi world to explore, intriguing (albeit thin) characters to follow, and enough visual spectacle to make viewers wish they had three eyeballs.

If you’re still on the fence about Total Recall, check out the trailer below:

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Still wondering how this Total Recall compares to Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 action film as well as Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” source material? Read our Total Recall: 2012 vs 1990 vs… 1966 feature.

For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant team check out the Total Recall episode of the SR Underground podcast.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our Total Recall Spoilers Discussion.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Total Recall is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity, and language. Now playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5

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  1. Saw Total Recall- redo last night- Pretty close to Awful! Flat, tedious and basically a 2 hr chase movie with no character development or any real story. The villian ( Bryan Cranston) is in the film for maybe ten minutes. Kate Beckinsale is the films only juice. 3 out of 10. Please no more remakes of Arnold movies! Total Recall 1990 RULES!

  2. Completely agree with everything Chuck said!

    I think they could have improved upon it a LOT by giving Colin Farrell (or ideally, more of a believable everyman/schlub… how’d you get dem abs working on the assembly line??) more time to show what his boring life is like, how discontented he is with it. That would make us care more about his desire for a new life, and make it all the more exciting when he HAS one.

    And give Jessica Biel SOMETHING to do. We have no idea why or how he fell in love with her before, and this time it’s cuz she’s pretty. That must be it, since she certainly never shows a shred of personality beyond “Urgent Face!”

    Kate Beckinsale was spot-on as an ass-kicking, smirking villain. Loved her!

  3. Just came from it. It wasn’t horrible but definitely could have been much better. The actual plot, to me, seemed a bit thin and the constant chasing became boring. I would agree with a 3/5, mostly because I thought the CGI and effects were very good.

  4. Saw this in the afternoon.

    If you already know the plot of the movie (having seen the first one), is there really a reason to see it again? For me, the answer is no. 50 to 70% of the movie was already ruined, since I knew each twist or turn of the story. You’re then left with enjoying the character moments (of which there aren’t many), looking at the special effects/fight scenes, or finding anything else that differs from the original.

    The only positive for me were the fight scenes done by either Beckinsale or Biel. Other than that, there’s nothing else to commend (since we’ve seen it all before).

    2/5 for me. If this is your first time watching Total Recall, then you might enjoy it better than I did.

  5. This is probably the only film that uses the word “S**T” so many times. I give it a 3 out of 5, one of the worst this year

  6. Oh dear: I didn’t like this at all. A frantic, noisy confusing mess which contained no originality at all; merely a collection of seemingly random and re-hashed scenes and ideas taken from many other films – Blade Runner, Minority Report, Battlestar Galactica, A. I., The Bourne Identity and Terminator all come to mind.

  7. The action was spot on thanks to Kate I didn’t care about the relationship between CF and JB matter fact I don’t even remember seeing them kiss once in the entire movie just hugs lol they could have paid more attention to the story seeing how the movie was like 2hrs I give it a 3 out of 5

    • They kissed once…

  8. I loved TR(1990), but I haven’t seen it for years now, the only thing I remember about it is it was really good and had suspense. Where was the suspense and surprises in TR 2012…There was none if you ask me but I enjoyed it up to the point where the invasion sequence started then it kinda went down hill for me just boom,crash as any other action movie does at it draws to a close, yeah, it had a lot of great action and scifi elements which were cool and Kate B was bad ass, she reminded me why I wanted to see Total Recall in the first place.
    The cast did a good job and the concepts were great but the suspense just wasn’t there, and I really don’t remember much from the 1990 TR but I knew it blew me mind.

  9. i was really looking forward to this movie and I have to say that after seeing it I was a bit let down. I would probably give this movie 2 – 2.5 stars as the only good tings about it were some cool action sequences and Kate Beckingsale.

    Problem with the movie was that they kept all the same twists and turns as the original and followed the same general story line. The writers should have taken the opportunity to innovate here and take the story down an alternate path. Also the beginning was way too rushed, why did he go to recall? In first flick it was clear why Houser (Schwartzeneger’s character) went to recall- he wanted a vacation to Mars. Why did Collin Farrell’s character go? Really vague here, and the overall setup of the story was very rushed and poorly executed. No good foundation was established imo.

    Also the casting. They casted Bryan Cranston, but why? He was barely used. What happened to Ethan Hawke? Very disappointed in the fact that Ethan’s role was cut out.

    To mee it seemed as if there was just too much running and slow motion jumping, which is not what this movie should have been about.

    Don’t see a sequel to this version of the franchise coming but will likely have another (better) reboot in some time

  10. I’m a fan of the first, so somewhat biased. However, the remake has no ability to interest you in the characters as they seem dispassionate throughout. You can’t relate to any of the characters and though there’s plenty of action it all seems empty and meaningless. It’s just not good when you’re sitting in a theater waiting for a movie to end.

  11. 1 out of 10 . since 1 is the lowest rating .
    don’t waste your $ ON THAT .
    You will never regret no to see this movie .

  12. I have my whole own review for this film, but ill try and sum it up in a sentence. Too much action, too little plot, characters not developed.

  13. To start with I’ll put it on the record that I did generally have fun watching this film. I go into action films already suspending disbelief and allowing the more ‘bang bang kerpow’ parts of my brain to accept fantastical storylines and plot-twists.

    That said though, I doubt I’ll ever watch this movie again. The fight scenes, though impressively choreographed, were ultimately let down by the number of time the camera would cut perspective not showing the character’s face. Many people in Western cultures actually have an understanding of martial arts now, and such blatant use of fight-doubles is annoying.

    The second reason is the sheer arrogance not of the film, but by the producers and writers in their presentation of the movie. All but four characters in the film (a film set mostly in Great Britain and Australia) have American accents… Even Bill Nighy, one of the world’s greatest character actors, even having been seen in huge international box-office hits speaking in his wonderfully eloquent British accent, has been turned into a damn American! And as an Australian I am seriously pissed off that there wasn’t a single Australian accent in ‘The Colony’. I mean seriously, are we supposed to accept the premise that after World War III there were only Americans left?

    So in the end, what could have been an enjoyable film was completely ruined by that realisation that more than half way through the year 2012, Americans STILL consider themselves the superior species in the world. Let me tell you something America, there is only so long a people can consider themselves the most important in the world before you are forced to realise that there are actually a hell of a lot more of the rest of us than there are of you.

    So there we have it, a potentially fun action film but the experience totally destroyed by conceit and arrogance.

    • Uh, gee, I guess when you guys over in Australia get your own damned multimillion dollar movie industry started, then you can make all the characters be Australian, huh? Until then, try shutting your Vegemite hole and maybe actually review the friggin’ film instead of just nation-bashing, ya ignorant Aussie jack-wagon.

      • The OP DID review the film. Toby is right in pointing out that the film does little do portray a realistic environment of either of the two surviving nations. It seems inconceivable that there would be so few indigenous folks. The only British accent I recalled (no pun intended) was the stereotypical villian. One would expect there to be *some* brits and aussies residing in their native homelands – the absence is very apparent.

        Also, the police cars were made by Dodge (a company with no European heritage or customer base) and garbed in liveries resembling modern day US police cars. Why would this be the case? The lack of any notion to UK police cars is again a production oversight. For non-US viewers, these aspects are crucial to convincing the audience that the story they are presented is a believable depiction of the future.

  14. Just saw the film this week and I think it was just an awful mess. I wasn’t into the comparisons to the 1990 film at all, but it was hard not to notice that this film was virtually the same script with just a few minor alterations. It was more realistic in some ways, but it was a soulless, heartless shell of a movie. None of the characters resonated, nor did I give a crap about them because they never gave me any reason to. Nor did they give me ANY reason to car about the “colonies” or the people trapped there.

    Parts of the film had Quaid running off in directions that made no sense at all, and meeting people who know him in the most unlikely places (the middle of the highway???). If you like nearly constant actions scenes with no end and no purpose, then this film is for you. Turn in your brain, because you won’t be needing it. I give it one star just because of the hot chicks in the film.

  15. I saw this today and actually thought it was pretty good. It’s not gonna be very memorable I guess, but I found it fun and liked the design and tone. After all the criticism I was expecting it to be terrible. I had no problem with anyone’s acting and thought Farrell made a pretty good action star.

  16. Guess I’ll pass on this one.

    Get your ass to mars.

  17. A lot of the reviews I’ve read are obsessed with comparing this to 1990’s Total Recall, but if you’re not fussed about that this version actually makes for a pretty watchable film. Excellent write-up.

  18. If your wanting to see a faithful reprisal of the first, then you’re in for a huge disappointment… However its a lot slicker with far better plot derision but lacks much of the originals quirkiness, but still very watchable

  19. As a fan of Blade Runner-esque sci-fi; i.e., dark brooding movies with gorgeously realized art design, and specifically in Blade Runner’s case it’s drop-dead gorgeous score. 2012’s Total Recall really did it for me.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the visuals and overall feeling of this film, everything from the future tech to the design of the two cities was a joy to behold.

    The movie does get a little tiresome towards the end though (too much action), but the first three quarters definitely make up for this slight shortcoming. The lack of extreme violence and foul language is also a very welcome aspect of this film. 4/5

    Oh, and I can’t stand the original Total Recall, as it has aged very poorly, and never was particularly good anyway.

  20. was a great movie till you had to show a picture of the monkey on the money, leave the tree swinger off tv