Top critical review
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Visually stunning, entertaining but flawed
on 1 September 2012
Just in case you didn't know, there was once a book called 'We can remember it for you wholesale', which was made into a movie in 1990 starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was called Total Recall and was very popular. It was about a man called Douglas Quaid who pays to go on a virtual holiday as a spy to Mars, but as they're implanting the spy memory, they discover he's already a spy. Cue lots of running around on Mars, alien artefacts and literally eye popping special effects.
For this remake we fast forward (cough) twenty two years and now Colin Farrell is Quaid, Len Wiseman (Underworld, Die Hard 4) is directing and Kate Beckinsale is reprising the famous role of Quaid's wife. A mouth watering prospect with Farrell an action star who really can act. Wiseman really knows his action and we all know what Beckinsale can do in leather hotpants.
Visually Total Recall (2012) is stunning. It is one of the richest and deepest realised futuristic worlds I've ever seen. It pulls heavily on Blade Runner and Minority Report but carves a distinctive, grittier feel of its own. A superb backdrop for what turns out NOT to be a remake of the original movie but a re-imagining of Philip K. Dicks original story. There is no Mars here, no eye popping effects or ancient artifacts. Quaid now works in a factory building synthetic police, a job he commutes to across the planet in a shuttle that literally flies through the centre of the earth. But at night Quaid isn't sleeping, he dreams of being chased. When he goes to Recall the real memories are realised and mayhem ensues, practically non-stop to the final credits. Along the way Wiseman tips his hat to all the fan favourite moments of the original and to Minority Report and adds some very deft touches, including a hint of a future connection with James Bond.
Come the end my overriding sense was of confusion. The beginning was exposition heavy but then we barely had any story narrative at all to the end. I think the confusion came mostly from my expectation for what the movie would be over what it was. Something similar to what I felt walking out of Dark Knight Rises, I just didn't feel I had a grip on what happened. With Dark knight this was a problem resolved by watching it again. These two movies are the first times I've been aware of a movie taking me on a ride and not caring so much that I knew where I was going, because they knew I'd figure it out with subsequent viewings via one medium or another. That's smart modern movie making for my mind.
That said there are failings in Total Recall that time isn't going to fix. First up is the bad guy: Cohaagen, played by Bryan Cranston. He barely gets any screen time so his threat is mute. Matthias the rebel leader is played by Bill Nighy, but the impact was lost because, well, it was Bill Nighy. The cross world shuttle didn't have the gravitas that running around on Mars did. Throughout you get a sense this is very confident movie making that didn't quite fit into the two hour runtime. Except there was at least one major and fairly lengthy action sequence that seemed almost totally pointless. Maybe they ran out of edit time.
Total Recall is a movie I'll appreciate more with time. Unlike the superb Dark Knight Rises I suspect there is just too much here though that doesn't work for me to ever lose myself in a story well told. It felt more like a two hour trailer spotlighting the talents of Farrell, Beckinsale and Wiseman against a stunning CGI backdrop. Worth the admission for the visuals alone.
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