Total Recall presents a bleak dystopian future set at the end of the 21st century after the mass bio-chemical warfare of the Third World War has reduced Earth to two territories – the United Federation of Britain and the Colony (formerly Australia). The Colony, home to the working-class citizens of Earth, is a mish-mash of cultures, sub-cultures and ethnicity. The Colony is grossly overpopulated and its people are underpaid, overworked and oppressed by the governing body – the UFB (United Federation of Britain).
Rising as a direct result of the poor living conditions in the Colony and the UFB's oppressive rule, an underground rebel force is on the move – fighting for freedom and a better deal – more space, more pay and the right to live. It's the UFB's Chancellor Cohaagen (played by Brian Cranston of Malcolm in the Middle) against the rebel leader Matthias (played by Bill Nighy – Davy Jones of the Pirates of the Caribbean series), and Cohaagen is fuelled by malice and greed.
Douglas Quaid (Farrell), a factory worker, has nightmares about being chased by the synthetic police force that he helps to assemble everyday in a factory in the UFB. He is running from them with a woman; a beautiful strong woman who refuses to leave him to the white robots until he is wrenched from her grasp by magnetic force. After every 'nightmare' he wakes next to his 'wife' Lori in their dark and shabby Colony accommodation, and is told to forget about it, to dream nicer dreams, to go back to sleep – but Quaid can't shake it off.
Quaid takes a visit to Rekall, a company that implants artificial memories, and chooses to be implanted with memories of life as a secret agent. Quaid is tested to ensure compatibility (one may choose any memories they like, provided they are unrelated to one's real-life experiences) but fails. Rekall employee McClane (John Cho) accuses Quaid of being a spy before being gunned down with the rest of Rekall's employees by a SWAT team sent for Quaid – but Quaid resists arrest. With abilities that could only belong to someone highly trained, Quaid kills his would be incarcerators and flees the scene – returning home to his 'wife' (notice how I keep drawing attention to this word? Yeah, remember that).
With the realms of reality and fantasy blurred, Quaid must determine who he is, what he stands for and what he needs to do (when everybody else already seems to know) – with the help of the beautiful woman from his 'nightmares', Melina (Biel).
Total Recall plays heavily with the notions of reality vs. virtuality and contains a few scenes of uncertainty on these matters. Is Quaid the good guy or the bad guy? Is Quaid really Quaid, or is he Hauser? Who is Hauser and what does he want? Without giving away any plotlines, Total Recall twists the viewers' perceptions and beliefs – is it real or is it recall?
Farrell, Beckinsale and Biel really shine in their respective roles as Quaid, Lori and Melina. Beckinsale in particular really seems to thrive in the role as '2nd favourite spy' – always trying to get the upper hand over Quaid, constantly challenging Cohaagen's orders to "bring him in alive" and hunting him and Melina with an almost life-driven intensity. The fight scenes between Lori and Quaid and Lori and Melina are amazing – less about guns and weapons and more about the physical strength and abilities of the body.
The visual effects and setting of Total Recall (2012) also impressed me. Everything seemed realistic (you know what I mean) – from explosions, fire, gun-fights and fight scenes to the futuristic hover cars working on magnetic force. The visual setting of the Colony was intriguing – signs in English, Asian and Arabic, dingy buildings upon dingy buildings, boat-people wearing conical Asian hats and that mutant woman with the three breasts (see Total Recall (1990)). If post-apocalyptic Earth really does resemble the cluttered waste of the Colony – then at least it will look interesting.
I really enjoyed Total Recall (2012). It was fast paced, action-packed and not so science-fiction as to alienate myself or other viewers. It was sufficiently different from the original Total Recall as to warrant its creation, but not so different as to be unrecognisable to those who have seen the 1990 Schwarzenegger great. So if you're stuck for something to do, are a fan of the original film or are just itching to see it – pop down to your local cinema and watch Total Recall (2012). You won't be disappointed.