This portion of the review is mostly SPOILER-FREE for anyone who watched the 1990 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both the 1990 and 2012 versions are both very loosely based on a Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.”
Douglas Quaid is an ordinary worker who has a troubling, recurring dream involving himself a beautiful mystery woman. When he wakes, he is greeted by his consummately gorgeous wife who is concerned for his health and his preoccupation with doing something better with his life. Struggling to cope with a feeling he can’t shake, he goes to a local recreational service known as Total Rekall (sp changed from original, but I figure you can handle that) where is intrigued at the idea of being a spy in a past memory. All the while are news reports of a resistance in a remote location and how the leader of his own community — Cohagen — is attempting to peacefully solve the problems for people.
But when Quaid goes to Total Rekall, something goes wrong, and before the process can take place, police show up to kill Quaid, who kills them all in a rush of super-spy awesomeness that surprises himself more than anyone else, starting an adventure that reveals his wife as an agent of Cohagen and kicks off a rather fun action film that honestly gets better as the film diverges from its original roots.
That does not make its roots poor, however. Overall, the film is a great run’em gun’em film with some sweet sci-fi CG, fighting sequences and honestly better emotion than Arnold could ever churn out at his finest.
Colin Farrell, for all his awkward “Alexander” days, does a decent job as a rather confused self preservationist secret agent trying not to kill those he thought he loved while trying to get to the bottom of things, even while everyone is trying to kill him. The action sequences are sometimes a little longer than they need to be, but I didn’t realize it was a two-hour film until I walked out of the theater, so that’s a good sign that pacing was still quality overall.
Unfortunately, the character of his faux wife remains mostly flat. Kate Beckinsale does execute a slightly more complex version than Sharon Stone did, but remains as coldly relentless. However, the fighting sequences are significantly more brutal and realistic in this version, offering much more impact. Beckinsale’s extensive fighting training from previous films shows very well. It was annoying, however, that she always had her hair down. Understanding the need to differentiate the two characters of her own and Jessica Biel‘s character, who always wears a ponytail, it would have served for this professional agent to put her hair up to improve her ability to see and perceive her environment. You know, like real life.
There are some major plot functions that differ from the original — including never leaving Earth and having no involvement with aliens. But then, Dick’s original story never left Earth either, if for completely different reasons. There is a mention of class differentiation, but they don’t make a real political statement out of it, more of a simple — “Leave us alone” theme that remains apolitical but achieves the desired connection for plotline. Also, while there are slums, high city and overpopulation, the movie doesn’t dissolve into a Blade Runner-esque dystopian future. There are actually some beautiful scenes instead of the eternal night.
Would I recommend you seeing it? If you love a good sci-fi action film, absolutely. It’s a fun watch, no matter how much you loved the 1990 film. Some of the tech is innovative and fun to watch. The acting isn’t shocking or dynamic, but it’s not necessarily terrible, either. It is strange to hear Bill Nighy in an American accent, however, and they didn’t really give him any time to do what Nighy does best: awesomeness. Go see it! You’ll enjoy! Just don’t expect anything major.
They don’t go to Mars, it’s not about Mars, and Mars is more a by-joke than anything else. Many of the lines pay homage the original, and unfortunately that’s a bane to the initial flow of the film. You can tell they’re following the original story almost too closely in order to capture loyalists, but I think it backfires, taking it much longer to be its own film than it should. This film has some great elements that distinguish it from the original adaptation, but they take awhile to reach.
To achieve the airless environment-idea of Mars, the writers purport that our world has been ravaged by a terrible chemical warfare that has made all but two places on Earth inhabitable — The United Federation of Britain, and The Colony — aka Australia. Connecting the two is a massive gravity-based elevator known as “The Fall,” a forty-story or so high craft that loads up workers and drops them directly through the planet to the far side to build synthetic soldiers our antagonist will use to invade the colony and wipe it clean to make for better real estate for the Britons. Our hero just so happens to work in the synthetic factory and supposedly knows a failsafe code that deactivates all of them, though he doesn’t know what it is and in the end doesn’t need it.
Jessica Biel’s character is lamentably flat. The 1990-version of her character is much more multi-layered and complex and would have served her much better. They could have sacrificed a few minutes of the fight scenes to give her greater depth. Biel is capable of depth as an actress, but this film gave her no real room or story to make that happen.
The film does become more of its own film, but it takes awhile. Once you’re past the first quarter to third of the film, it begins taking on a unique flavor that makes the first part much more bearable. I recommend seeing it, just remember to leave Arnold Schwarzenegger at the door.