The distinguishing feature of Total Recall is the fact that everyone is almost always breathless. Now, this may have something to do with how they’re constantly running and jumping and falling and punching and chasing and crashing and shooting and exploding and so on and so forth. That’s enough to make anyone winded. The problem is the movie itself forgets to take some time to breathe, and when it does, it’s just for a few brief gasps. Now, as a viewer, I wasn’t ever breathless. As the action sequences were all fairly familiar or derivative, the revelations weren’t all that surprising, so they didn’t take my breath away, and so I wasn’t winded at all the by the end of things. If anything, I breathed a sigh of resigned indifference at the end of it all. Did I have a good time? I suppose, but for the most part, this is one remake that just confirmed what I suspected the moment I saw the first trailer: this is one remake that just didn’t need to be made.
Now, in creating this remake, a couple of major mistakes were made that keep it from truly being something special… or at least better. First, the whole “Is it real or is it Rekall” angle isn’t played very well. During the key scene when Colin Farrell’s more everyman version of Douglas Quaid is being forced to question what exactly is real, there isn’t much suspense for the audience because we’ve seen so much from the perspective of other characters that we already know what the answer is. When Arnold faced that situation, there was some genuine doubt about what we had or had not seen take place, which made for a very cool, suspenseful moment. The other major mistake is the question of identity is never really resolved. In this version, Quaid is more or less just swept along as events unfold, and that remains the case pretty much all the way through. In the Schwarzenegger version, there was the key moment when Quaid realized that he had been betrayed (spoiler alert for a 22 year-old movie) by himself, and from that moment he seizes control not only of the situation, but of who he wants to be. Here in 2012, Quaid’s too busy running and gunning to take time to bother with such a key revelation and decision, and the film’s poorer for it.
Now that’s not to say it’s a total loss. Sure, Total Recall 2012 is like a conglomerate of previous sci-fi greats from Bladerunner to Minority Report to I, Robot to even Star Wars, but it has its moments. Like when Quaid, after previously mentioning that he always wanted to learn piano, sits down at a piano and discovers that he does indeed know how to play. The expression of surprise mixed with sheer giddy joy that washes over him at this revelation is a delightful moment, and gives one a glimpse at what might have been had the character been allowed more time for such a journey of self-discovery. Truth be told, the biggest film this movie pays homage to features another amnesiac; Jason Bourne. This film plays out like someone wondering what would happen if Jason Bourne did all that crazy stuff that he can do, but did it in the future. Wouldn’t that be cool? Well yeah, it kind of is.
As you’ve probably already heard, this version doesn’t take place on Mars (because for some reason here in the 21st century, movies that take place on Mars are box office poison *cough* John Carter *cough*). This conflict takes place here on Earth, an Earth that’s no longer all that hospitable. The only places left for people to live are Britain and Australia, and transportation between the two goes through the center of the planet on a huge, cargo transport and tunnel that’s simply known as The Fall. The colonists in Australia commute to the wealthier, more powerful United British Federation where they make up the bulk of the grunt workforce. Thus there’s a class struggle with a resistance movement claiming that “The Fall enslaves us all.” Catchy slogan. A Biblical one, in fact.
Did you know that the Bible also talks about The Fall? Of course in the Bible it’s not something that can get you from one side of the planet to the other by going through the center of it, but rather it’s an event; a key event that took place a long time ago. It was a moment when humanity was faced with a decision; obey God and live life according to his rules, or take matters into our own hands and try to live life on our own terms. Adam and Eve chose the latter, and in so doing, they fell. They fell from a state of perfection. They fell from the good pleasure of God by disobeying him. They fell into the stark reality of a deception that had them convinced life would be better but turned out to be just the opposite. They fell into sin, into evil, into corruption, and they fell from freedom into slavery. And we’ve been suffering ever since. Indeed, The Fall was the enslavement of us all.
Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there. God loved us far too much to just let it go at that, and so he did something about The Fall; in fact, he undid it. He accomplished this through the death and resurrection of his son Jesus, which cleared a way for us to get free of sin, to find salvation and forgiveness, and to enjoy a restoration of life as God intended before The Fall. Now, not everyone wants that, not everyone wants things to change because they’re comfortable with the way things are. But if you’re like Quaid, if you feel dissatisfied and like there just has to be something… more, more than just life as we know it, then take heart; there is. You don’t even need a mind wipe to discover it, but you do need a change of heart, you do need a Savior.
You don’t, however, necessarily need to go see this movie. Yeah the action is decent, it has some fun little Easter eggs for fans of the original, and it even has a few good ideas here and there. For the most part though, it just barrels along, breathlessly trying to keep the action going without ever really pausing to give us much to latch onto beyond the spectacle of, yeah, Jason Bourne in the future is kind of cool; now if they could just tell a story to go along with the action.