Film Review: Total Recall (2012)

Release date: 3rd Aug 2012 (US) | 29th August 2012 (UK)

Director: Len Wiseman


First of all let me point out that I’m not going to do what most other reviewers of this film have done by resisting the urge to directly compare it with the original 1990 Total Recall film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. I am a great fan of that film, and although a few references may slip in, I feel it is much fairer not to compare as they really are from different worlds. There is a great deal of uncertainty around whether this actually is a remake, or a re-imagining of the P. K. Dick short story on which the original film is also based. After seeing it I can confirm that this uncertainty is well founded. There are subtle homages, lines, shots and even full scenes which have been brought back (ie paid for) along with the title of the film; but there are enough differences and new ideas here to not necessarily warrant the “remake” label.

This film cost $125m to make, and you can see the money has been well spent. As the film shows us an economic superpower state and a deprived developing nation, the world comes alive on an incredible scale using wide establishing shots and realistic sets filled with intricate detail. The murky red light district scenes are obviously influenced by everyone’s favourite Cyberpunk benchmark, Blade Runner, whereas futuristic London seems to have adopted some sort of retro-Victorian architecture style which protrudes from the sky. There are some interesting concepts relating to vehicles, cross-continental travel, robotics and smallarms, all of which enhance the polished visual style of the film and the result is very thorough and textured right down to the props and costumes. The musical score deserves a special mention also, as it sounds fantastic and compliments the visual style perfectly.

Knowing Colin Farrell was to play the lead role in the film left me not sure what to expect from his character. Having seen “The Recruit” and “Phone Booth” I knew he was capable of delivering good performances, but have also seen a few of his disappointments and didn’t think he would be a good choice for this film. My fears proved to be mostly correct as he does seem quite badly placed for most of the film and although he genuinely carries a few scenes very well, I found myself wishing they’d chosen someone who spent less time in the gym (trying to fill some large boots) and more time expanding their acting ability. Much of the dialogue does not do much to help this, because although the plot is made mostly from good scifi fodder at it’s base, the script itself does dip into the Hollywood “I need something to put here” basket at times. The rest of the cast fill their roles well (especially Kate Beckinsale) although Bryan Cranston is a particularly disappointing boss baddie and Bill Nighy only makes a brief appearance.

The much-hated 12A rating doesn’t particularly hinder the film, although some more adult content would have nicely grittied-up the overall experience and fitted well into the film’s almost dark/paranoid mood. Director Len Wiseman has stated previously that there is more adult-only content which didn’t make it into the film, and that this will appear on the home video release. It’s hard to not recommend this to anyone unless you particularly dislike scifi action films (and I’m kind of guessing most readers of this site don’t fall into that category). If you already hate the idea of this because you loved the first film so much then, yes, it will prove you right because it simply doesn’t have the depth which gave the original film longevity, but it does introduce a lot of new ideas and executes them with extreme efficiency. Thankfully for once there’s actually a lot more to it than what you see in the trailer. If you can handle a little bit of Hollywood-safeplaying (and two hours of Colin Farrell) then you need to see this, and I’d actually recommend giving the original 1990 Total Recall a watch before you do.


  • Impressive art direction, design and effects.
  • Some cool futuristic technology and weapons.
  • Nice homages to the original film, appropriate and not forced.


  • Colin Farrell.
  • Somewhat predictable.
  • Cheesy in a few parts.
  • Less lens flair, please.
  • Asno Mudo

    What do you mean by it doesn’t have the depth? The only depth in the original is that you are never really sure whether the whole thing is going on inside his head or real. As for the acting, Colin Farrel has done a pretty good job in most of his films, that they weren’t successful was not because of his acting skills. If you’re being really honest you’d also have to admit that A.S. couldn’t act to save his life, yet he managed to pull off a fair few action roles.

    • scifimethods

      I didn’t specifically mean the original had massive depth, but that this version just doesn’t stick in your mind like that one did and is a bit more forgettable. Arnie is one of those stars who oozes presence and charisma even though he’s a terrible actor. Farrell has proved he can carry a film in the right role, but this is not one of them, although he does hit the spot in a couple of scenes. Not necessarily his fault – wrong place,wrong time. I explained a lot of background to this in our preview before I’d seen the film:

  • Victor

    1.- i havent see it. 2.- all my friends hated it… deeply. 3.- i find your review excelent. Well written opinion. Now i know why they hated it. Although they say to me that as a cyberpunk film the original photography is amazing. Cheers.

  • nich obert

    Liked the campiness of the first one, it’s definitely the weak link of Verhoven’s loose trilogy satirizing the action star and the military industrial complex, but that still makes it smarter than damn near every sci-if action movie made in Hollywood

    The new one seemed to fall victim to the “sci fi isn’t just kids stuff! Let me prove it by making everyone grim and everything drab!” School that seems to have finally hit a wall. With even someone as gritty as District 9 being flooded with colors and having earnest characters who we aren’t supposed to sneer at.

    Arnold somehow gave a better indication that he might be a normal schlub than Farrell. That’s insanity. Arnold couldn’t look less human and the movie was playing that up and yet he still seemed more like a regular joe. Sigh.

    Holy cow that elevator is impractical. The implications are hilarious.