The UnPopular Opinion: Total Recall (2012)

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!


Remakes are one of the most thankless projects in Hollywood. Everyone involved with the production of a film that tells a story that has already been told have to prepare themselves for an onslaught of hate and vitriol from those who love the original version of the movie. We have seen this trend reach a boiling point in recent years but the idea of a remake is nothing new to Hollywood. Hell, stage plays are recreated with new set design, cast, and writing almost annually and no one bats an eye. Why should films be any different? 1990's TOTAL RECALL is one of the most beloved action films of that decade. While the special effects may not all have aged as well as others, Paul Verhoeven's violent, sexy, and very funny film has stood the test of time because it manages to blend a sense of pulpy science fiction and balls out insanity in a unique film setting. So, of course, any remake is going to get shit on the moment it is announced. But, 2012's TOTAL RECALL is a superior film in almost every way to the Arnold Schwarzenegger version. That doesn't mean you have to throw the original away, but you can allow the two films to stand side by side without criticism.

Before we go any further, yes I am aware that the remake was directed by Len Wiseman. Yes, I am aware that it lacks the levity of the 1990 film. Yes, I am aware of all of the differences between the two films. But, nostalgia is not the only criteria for whether a remake is a good movie. Films must be judged on their own merits. While I am not advocating that anyone disregard the original film, that cannot solely be your point of contention with a new take on the same material. I believe that if the 1990 TOTAL RECALL had never been made there would have been an astoundingly more positive reception for the 2012 film. Wiseman has often proven himself to be able to film good action sequences, they just happen to exist within movies that are a bit lacking in other regards. This TOTAL RECALL may not have the same witty one-liners or buckets of gore but that is because this is a film made in a different era and with different goals in mind. My biggest complaint with this film is that it lacks enough depth the source material deserves, but that applies to both versions of the film.

The UnPopular Opinion, Total Recall, Colin Farrell, Bryan Cranston, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bill Nighy, Science Fiction, Remake, Arnold Schwarzenegger

Each of the two TOTAL RECALLs have their own merits. Where the 1990 film was full to the brim with multi-dimensional characters, the remake doesn't flesh everyone out in quite the same way. Still, the new version of the movie spends a lot more energy on action and plot, weaving expansive fights and chase sequences between a twisting narrative that is heads and tails more engaging than the first movie. TOTAL RECALL 1990 is very much "Schwarzenegger on Mars" rather than a tale about espionage and unreliable memories. TOTAL RECALL 2012 delivers on adapting Philip K. Dick's short story into a modern parable much in the same was that Steven Spielberg did with MINORITY REPORT. Both that film and this remake examine a cultural and societal air of suspicion and surveillance through the eyes of one character deeply embedded in the broken system he is systematically taking apart with his actions. Because the themes are darker and more brooding, this TOTAL RECALL is not as light or fun as the original but that is by design.

Then there is the cast. Any time you name an actor stepping into a role previously played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, you are likely going to have a trade off. Where Arnold was the muscular quip-spewing machine, Colin Farrell is a superior actor who brings some depth to his character that is only limited by the screenplay itself. Instead of Ronnie Cox and Michael Ironside as your villains, we instead have the always great Bryan Cranston and Bokeem Woodbine as your bad guys. They may not be mustache-twirling black hats like Ironside and Cox, but there is more to these characters than just yelling and slicked back hair. Even Kate Beckinsale is a massive upgrade compared to Sharon Stone. Both women are unbelievably sexy, but the fact that Len Wiseman is married to Beckinsale means her character gets a significant boost in screen time here. If I have one casting complaint, it is Jessica Biel who fails to deliver as Melina. In the original Rachel Ticotin never was attractive enough to compare with Sharon Stone, but her character was stronger and more demure which served as a contrast between the two women. Here, Biel and Beckinsale are so damn good looking that you sometimes fail to accept her as a freedom fighter.

The UnPopular Opinion, Total Recall, Colin Farrell, Bryan Cranston, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bill Nighy, Science Fiction, Remake, Arnold Schwarzenegger

What really makes TOTAL RECALL stand out from the recent trend in science fiction is that while it does try to examine a deeper set of issues and themes, it doesn't bludgeon you with a political stance. Yes, the entire concept of this TOTAL RECALL is about a brewing civil war between the haves and the have-nots in this dystopian world, but it treats them the way STAR WARS treated The Empire and The Rebellion. These groups exist and are facing off against one another but that takes a back seat to the set-pieces. There is a lot of CGI in this movie but it never feels as artificial as similar films in the last decade. TOTAL RECALL has a tangible feel to it despite the computer generated imagery and truly inhabits this fictional world. I would have loved to see the story return to Mars, but it was a very smart decision to set this film in a wholly different geography to further distance itself from comparisons to the first movie.

TOTAL RECALL relies heavily on fictional science which means that there is no use trying to apply logic or physics to the world on screen. Again, suspension of disbelief is key when you watch films like this in order to truly appreciate the experience of the movie. But, the new TOTAL RECALL far exceeds the gadgets and technology we saw in the first movie even if the setting is more mundane. This total recall feels more like BLADE RUNNER than ROBOCOP. Len Wiseman manages to evoke classic films rather than the original version of TOTAL RECALL which is a testament to this movie being able to stand on it's own. There are a lot of things I wanted to see in this TOTAL RECALL that I did not get but that is the pitfalls of expectation. This TOTAL RECALL would be worthy of a sequel to further experience the world it built and maybe draw some more parallels with the 1990 film. There is no reason now that the movie couldn't go to Mars, right?

The UnPopular Opinion, Total Recall, Colin Farrell, Bryan Cranston, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bill Nighy, Science Fiction, Remake, Arnold Schwarzenegger

For a film about unreliable memory, TOTAL RECALL deserves to be remembered. It serves as exactly what it was designed to be: summer popcorn entertainment. I do feel that this version of the film is a step above in the visual quality of the 1990 film even if it doesn't work quite as well as Paul Verhoeven's movie. If I had to choose between the two movies, I would likely opt to go with the Arnold Schwarzenegger film, but I would have no qualms about rewatching the 2012 version when looking for a good flick on a regular evening. It is fast, slick, and well acted and is different enough from the original that it is more than capable of standing on it's own as a film and a movie experience. The goal of TOTAL RECALL as a story is to have you question reality and your perception of the past and both movies do that very well. What this version of TOTAL RECALL does better is give you a roller coaster on which to experience those themes. It may not be as funny as the classic take on the tale but this TOTAL RECALL is more than worthy enough to share that title.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected], spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com



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