I get why everyone’s hating on Total Recall (2012). I really do. Hating on remakes is all the rage lately. Actually, it has been for a while. Pretty much every year, Wikipedia’s entry on “[Year] in Film” declares that the current year is notable for breaking the previous record for the most sequels, prequels, and remakes in a given calendar year.
And you know what? Total Recall is a pretty bad remake, actually. Most of the elements from the original film are in there out of obligation (imagine the uproar if there had been no three-breasted woman), and the whole “memory loss”/”what’s real?” part of the plot is actually the least interesting thing about the film. That being said (yeah, that didn’t really seem like “that being said” territory, did it?), I actually really liked this film for two pretty distinct reasons.
The first relates to this film’s place in the science fiction genre. Science fiction films generally come in two flavors: films that take place in the distant future, or films that take place in a completely different world that has little or no relation to our own. In the former case, we get a phenomenon that is (sometimes pejoratively, sometimes affectionately) referred to as “The Future According to the 60s!” (or whatever decade in which the film in question was produced.)
Opinions on this phenomenon are pretty sharply divided, but I happen to fall quite squarely in the “pro” column. As a student of history, I find it fascinating to no end to see what artists in various time periods thought “the future” was going to look like.
Although the setting of this film was a post-apocalyptic future, it did offer some insight into what “The Future According to the 2010s” looks like to these filmmakers. Guns looked somewhat similar to how they look now, though some of them do really awesome things like wrap glowing cables around someone, immediately restraining them. Cell phones? Well there’s a good question. How do we account for the fact that cell phones are already way more advanced than anyone thought any communications technology would be? Well, agents of the government have them implanted in their hands. And they can use any glass that might be on hand as a giant phone screen for video calls and other visuals. And don’t even get me started on magnetic cars.
My scifi nerd is showing, but I really can’t be the only person who enjoyed this aspect of the film, right? Isn’t that one of the reasons we like science fiction so much in the first place? The “hey, cool!” factor, if you will?
If that didn’t quite do it for you, how about the strong female characters? Kate Beckinsale plays Lori, a deadly secret agent who quickly becomes the film’s primary antagonist and who proceeds to scare the living shit out of the audience with how believably she plays a highly-trained, stone-cold killer. On the flip side, we get Jessica Biel as resistance fighter Melina. And the hate-chemistry between these two characters was absolutely delicious early on. The biggest complaint I have about this film is that it didn’t choose to capitalize on this with the huge fight between these two that it was more than hinting at.
The males weren’t half-bad either. I know a lot of people aren’t high on him, but I’ve enjoyed every film I’ve seen so far with Colin Farrell as the lead (this, The Recruit, and S.W.A.T.), and I think he’s a fine choice for an action film. Bryan Cranston was good as corrupt politician Chancellor Cohaagen, but I have to admit I was pretty disappointed with how they expanded his role toward the end of the film and minimized Beckinsale’s.
Overall, I think this film’s deepest flaw is the title: Total Recall. I’m reminded of the story of the I, Robot film. I, Robot is a pretty neat science fiction film starring Will Smith. What it isn’t is an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s short story collection of the same name. You can be forgiven if you’re confused by that, what with it having the same title and the late Asimov’s name in the credits. You see, what happened is that someone came up with this really awesome, original science fiction script. The studio more or less said, “That’s nice, but we need a title people will recognize.”
The difference with Total Recall is that I frankly don’t really care all that much about the original film that was being adapted here. Sorry to commit sacrilege and all, but this was an Arnold Schwarzenegger film I wasn’t overly impressed by. I also don’t know where this film came from (probably it wasn’t remotely the same situation as I, Robot). I can tell you as a viewer that the “secret agent whose memory was erased” angle was the least interesting part of the film, and felt like it was there entirely because it had to be there. (Maybe because, I don’t know, it was called Total Recall.)
Ignoring any relationship this had to the Arnold Schwarzenegger film of the same name, I thought this was a thoroughly entertaining action/science fiction film with a couple of perks that pushed the right buttons for me. It might not be a good remake (again: didn’t care for the original, so I don’t care), but it was a thoroughly enjoyable film.