Total Recall Review

poster from the Columbia Pictures film Total Recall 2012

I was really excited for Total Recall – excited enough to induce me to review it for this blog even though I’m on vacation. I don’t remember a lot about the first Total Recall, but what I do remember is that Arnold Schwarzenegger is not a good actor. So although I’m generally against remakes because they mean new stories aren’t getting made, I’m in favor of this one because there was a lot of room for improvement. The basic story was the same, taken from a Philip K. Dick short story called “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.”

An ordinary guy visits a company that promises to implant fun spy memories only to have his repressed memories of being a real spy rise to the surface, making him a police target.

Where the new Total Recall differs from the old Total Recall is in the details, and the details can make all the difference. For me, they turned a “meh” movie into a great one.


The first and biggest difference is that instead of taking place on a colonized version of Mars that is riven with factions, the story takes place on a version of Earth that has been made mostly uninhabitable due to chemical warfare. The only places left to live are the United Federation of Britain (Europe), and The Colony (Australia). Living space is the most precious commodity they have, so the cities are cool labyrinths of houses stacked on houses.

Doug contemplates the Colony from the Columbia Pictures film Total Recall 2012

Like Blade Runner, but with more exciting chase scenes.

The UFB is the fancy pants government half of the world where all the rich people live and the lowbrow workers live in the Colony and commute to their jobs in Britain via an amazingly cool cylindrical bullet train that goes through the center of the earth in about 20 minutes. The best part about this setup was that for once, the post apocalyptic landscape doesn’t feature the USA and only the USA. In fact, it’s not even there.

giant elevator from the UFB to the Colonies from the Columbia Pictures film Total Recall 2012

MY AUNT: What do they need such a big elevator for… ohhhhh.

Our hero Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a normal boring factory worker who’s been having dreams about running away from the police with his spy partner Melina (Jessica Biel), who is not his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale). In fact, he’s never even met her. Feeling like his life is incomplete, he decides to have his spy fantasies turned into memories at a place called Rekall.

Doug goes into the Rekall machine from the Columbia Pictures film Total Recall 2012

It sucks when your life is so bad you’d rather have needles in your brain than go back to it.

At Rekall, the treatment accidentally triggers buried memories about his actual real life as a spy, and suddenly there are stormtroopers (aka UFB police) everywhere trying to kill him. Even his supposed wife is in on it.

Lori administers the hug of death from the Columbia Pictures film Total Recall 2012

Doug! You had a bad day! Let me administer THE HUG OF DEATH!

It’s supposed to be a big secret who Doug really is, but my super writer powers made it pretty obvious. The trailer also makes it seem like there’s a big overarching question: is this really happening or is this just his fantasy? But they only really play this up during a few key moments in the movie. For the rest of it, Doug and Melina run away from Doug’s evil wife and beat the crap out of robot cops who look like a cross between Imperial stormtroopers and those guys from Tron.

Doug fights a UFB robot from the Columbia Pictures film Total Recall 2012

What are you, a freaking Terminator? Just die already!

Doug is a very important guy, which is why Melina rescued him and also why Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), the UFB leader, is so eager to keep him alive instead of just putting a bullet in his brain like any sensible villain.

Cohaagen with his robot cops from the Columbia Pictures film Total Recall 2012

Make sure you take him alive. I haven’t gotten to use my new sharks with the laser beams on their heads yet.

Their reason for keeping him alive is a good one, but it’s not exactly an opaque one if you know what I’m saying. You might guess what’s really going on.

Doug and Melina drive a hover car from the Columbia Pictures film Total Recall 2012

Okay, I guess it’s safe to say you were definitely not a driving instructor in your past life.

But I’m not going to complain too much about the slight predictability issues because a) most of the plot has been out in the world since 1990 and b) there are so many awesome fights, cool tricks, and neat gadgets that you may not even care about the plot anyway. I barely even thought about it until the movie was over and I had already decided I really liked it.

Doug trapped by light ropes from the Columbia Pictures film Total Recall 2012

Help! I’m caught by a magical light rope!

So do I recommend this movie? Yes! It’s super cool and a great time to watch. Colin Farrell is infinitely better to watch than Arnold Schwarzenegger. I would caution you, however, not to watch the 1990 version before going to this new one, as most of the people I’ve spoken to who are still familiar with that film didn’t enjoy the new one, probably because they spent too much time comparing the two versions through a nostalgia filter. Treat them as separate films and you’ll have a better time. Trust me.

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