Published: Friday, 10 August 2012 | Written by Daniel Denehy
It is impossible to talk about a remake without talking about the movie that it came from. For those unfamiliar, Total Recall was an Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick from the 90’s about a man who goes through a recreational mind-altering procedure and supposedly discovers that he’s really a spy. The original film left a question mark on that summary, never definitively stating what was reality. It was a good action flick for the time, had some creative ideas and thoughtful themes behind an otherwise 90’s action flick. If you liked Arnold’s other movies of the time, it was a must watch.
The new Total Recall as a remake, is a forgettable one. It leads us through a modern-style sci-fi action flick, while occasionally giving nods to its predecessor, and not always in appropriate ways. There are times when the movie draws the attention of the fans of the first movie saying, “Look! Look! We saw Arnold’s movie too!” and plops a reference on screen regardless of if it thematically fits. There is one scene in a red-light district that brings back an extremely minor mutant character from the original movie, without ever explaining what this mutant is doing in this otherwise completely non-mutated mass of people. Or there’s another scene where the original movie tricked the audience with a red herring. The remake does its best to recreate the scene only to try to trick not the audience, but the fans who would recognize the scene. So it’s an homage you might say. I agree it is, a bad one. The original fake-out was clever. It played with people’s expectations, and showed off cool tech. This new scene showed the same tech, but made the twist worse by untwisting it for the sake of “Ha, ha, didn’t you like that first movie?”
Minus the occasional misplaced homage and the same general synopsis as the original, the remake has a completely different setting, and themes. It’s a different, more modern movie with Total Recall smacked onto it, not Total Recall modernized. In that respect, in thinking of the remake as its own movie, with questionable similarities to an Arnold flick from the 90’s, it’s much better. It shows off a very cool looking, believable future. All the technology and politics are nicely handled and exciting. And for fans of Mass Effect it’s very fun pretending that the bad guys are Cerberus. (It’s easier than you might think).
It’s a real pity that this movie wasn’t its own IP because it really would have been a stronger movie for it. There’s enough of a difference that you can just see the original script of this having a different title, and the Hollywood executive reading it saying it sounds like Total Recall. He then asks his secretary if the studio still owns the rights to the movie. Then, after hearing what he wants he puffs on his overly stereotypical cigar, and orders it to be re-written as a Total Recall remake because it will make more money that way.
It’s a pity, but not a bad movie. If you like modern sci-fi action flicks like Minority Report or I, Robot, you’ll enjoy the new Total Recall, just do yourself a favor and pretend that it has nothing to do with the original (and that the villains are Cerberus).