With little expectation to enjoy the remake of Total Recall because it was an unnecessary remake of a cheesy 1990's science fiction classic, I went in simply for hopes of good action scenes, and the trailer revealed that it was not too much to ask for.
Like I said, Total Recall is a serious example of a film that cannot be remade. The original was both an internally complex and interesting science fiction film and an action vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger full of cheesy humour and groundbreaking themes. In the 2012 remake, the themes are all familiar because they have been previously covered in the original film, and so the plot, subject matter and setting are changed. Instead of being about putting an end to a corporate rule over society on mars, it is about putting an end to the totalitarian rule of a dystopian society which is segregated. The original theme was more interesting while the new one is one that has been covered in too many other science fiction films for it to be anything short of familiar. Total Recall was a film that did not to be remade, and the fact that it was remade into a film with a generic science fiction story which lacks the originality of the original.
All in all, the problem comes down to the plotting. The script is fine and even though it tries and fails to be insightful, it manages to pass without having any moments that I found to be bad. But the problem comes into the story because it has few of the good themes from the original movie and nothing good that is new. It is a dull science fiction tale this time around which loses track of its memory concept about halfway through only to turn into a basic action film which ends up a bit too similar to many other science fiction films. I would associate the remake of Total Recall more with films like The Fifth Element due to its style and some of its plot elements than with the original Total Recall. If you changed the title of the film, altered small plot elements and references to the original film, Total Recall could be passed off as something else because as a remake it will always suffer in comparison to the original while also being rather bland and forgettable. There is little in Total Recall that hasn't been seen before, so it is not worth getting too excited about.
The visual experience of Total Recall was actually pretty impressive. The science fiction setting was really great because the universe was depicted with a production design which felt futuristic and yet contemporary at the same time, and while it had top notch visual effects, it was able to use them in moderation. Total Recall capitalises on a good futuristic production design for its interior settings while mainly using visual effects for its exterior scenes which means that there is a strong balance in them. Everything in Total Recall looks cool, and so it stands out from a technical standpoint.
The action scenes in Total Recall are very stylish because of the fact that they blend visual effects with skilled choreography and are filmed with extensive shots and edited at a gentle pace instead of being excessively choppy like half the other action films of modern day. Although there is not enough of them to actually render the film a solid feature, the action scenes in Total Recall are impressive and fairly entertaining. And in a world where action cinema is dominated by excessive reliance on visual effects or choppy editing, Total Recall is able to capitalise on some of the best elements of the former while using none of the latter.
But when it comes to the acting, Total Recall finds itself coming up short most of the time.
You can see that Colin Farrell takes on the role as he has the look of an everyman and not a big action hero like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he manages to put up a decent fight as an action hero. But when it comes to acting, he is not up to the challenge. Douglas Quaid is a character that nobody could ever play better than Arnold Schwarzenegger because the man is a cheesy action hero, and in the remake he is way too much of a serious figure. The issue with this is that the film takes itself in a lot more serious direction and so Colin Farrell has to do the same. He simply fails to do that because all of his emotions are projected way too subtly. He doesn't physically convey a threatened status and his line delivery is too monotonous for him to grasp the intended emotional concepts that the film puts fourth. All in all, Colin Farrell is easily able to grasp the ability to play an action hero well because he puts up a fight, acts quickly and grasps his weapons with confidence. But none of these can overshadow the fact that at heart, his performance is simply poor form for the leading role. Colin Farrell cannot justify his casting too well in Total Recall, and while he can play an everyman and an action hero, he cannot play an actual character in this film.
Jessica Biel isn't especially bad in Total Recall, but she isn't able to justify any reason to call her a good actress. She makes a decent duo with Colin Farrell despite the limit of how far that can go, and she handles her weapons well enough, but when it comes to acting that is an entirely different issue. Jessica Biel fails to be able to tune her physical emotions in with her internal ones and so her line delivery does not match her physicality as she overacts with her body movements but underacts with her line delivery which just makes her entire performance inconsistent and not that impressive. You can see that she's trying, but even though she doesn't have too much of a character, she really is a limited actress.
Bryan Cranston is the one actor who actually manages to prove himself impressive in Total Recall. You can expect nothing less from him because the man is a genius as an actor, and so in his brief role as antagonist Chancellor Vilos Cohaagen he manages to make the film worth seeing if just to please fans. Bryan Cranston dominates the screen with a powerful hold over his character and fills the part with firm and unmatched dominance which just steals the screen. He just performs without problem in Total Recall and makes a great villain.
John Cho makes a good cameo as well.
So despite some impressive action scenes and great technical qualities, Total Recall lacks the originality, complexity and humour of the original while replacing it with dull storytelling and a lack of involvement in what is happening.