Let's get one thing straight: the new Total Recall (2012) never needed to be made. Hollywood has been caught in a sequel and remake epidemic for years. Redbox is ruining the art of cinephilia by creating a generation of film watchers only interested in new releases. Kids today know nothing of the old ways! But enough shooting at the sun. What's done is done. A new version of Total Recall is here, and it's a sleek, action-saturated sci-fi thriller. Colin Farrell plays a nobody factory worker named Douglas Quaid, or else he's a double agent named Houser. His is a future where earth is uninhabitable except for colonies on Great Britain and Australia that citizens travel between via a tunnel through the earth. This is 2012's biggest digression from the original Total Recall (1990), which takes place mostly on Mars. Both films feature a bewildered action hero trying to figure out which events are real and which are fabricated. How do the two films stack up against each other?
R versus PG-13
Total Recall (1990) has a body count of 77. Arnold Schwarzenegger punches a woman in the face and shoots her in the head. (Then he says, "Consider that a divorce!") The original is so violent that it had to be re-cut to avoid the X rating, particularly in a scene where Schwarzenegger uses a corpse for a shield in a gun fight. Contrast that with Total Recall (2012) and its artfully executed PG-13 rating. There's a recent thing in action films of implied death. Explosions send bodies flying, but without blood. The whole thing feels dishonest.
The iconic three-breasted woman appears in both films. In the original, she's an actual character, and since mutants exist on Mars, her breasts are explicable. Total Recall's PG-13 saved up all its sex tokens for only the briefest glimpse. Winner: Total Recall (1990)
Much in the way video games have gotten empirically better in the last 20 years, action in film has become more sophisticated. The actors move faster and in more elaborate settings, as in the latest film, when they fight on a big, fast-moving 3D elevator or something. Everybody in Total Recall (2012) seems to have dedicated his or her life to combat training, gymnastics and hand-to-hand combat. So much action. Your action needs will be met. Winner: Total Recall (2012)
Envisioning 2084 AD
Total Recall (1990) is at a disadvantage here in that we know more about the future by now; costume designers likely misjudged the enduring power of crimped hair and shoulder pads. They have flat-screen TVs embedded in the walls and clunky video laptops. People live on Mars and vacation on Saturn.
Total Recall (2012) spared no expense with CGI backdrops of futuristic slums. There are flying cars and apartments stacked to an overcast sky, and it's dark, dirty and thrilling. The implanted hand telephone in the new version puts it over the top in this category. Winner: Total Recall (2012)
In both films, Quaid believes he's married to Sharon Stone or Kate Beckinsale, until she reveals herself to be an agent for the other side and tries to kill him a lot. Then there's a second woman from Quaid's other life, played by Rachel Ticotin or Jessica Biel. Stone is so charismatic that she almost manages to seduce Quaid, even after she's revealed her treachery. Beckinsale moves like a cat, but she's boring. Biel is similarly underwhelming, and why are they both played by brunettes with hot bodies? It's hard to tell them apart.
By now, we're used to seeing women in heels leap into action, but remember that in 1990, the sophisticated fight scene between Stone and Ticotin broke serious feminist ground. Winner: Total Recall (1990)
Arnold Schwarzenegger versus Colin Farrell
Schwarzenegger is always miscast, when you think about it, because what business does a weightlifting Austrian have here? It's absurd, but when he becomes Hauser the secret agent, his muscles fall into place.
Farrell plays him too close to the chest. He's mostly just scared and confused, with moments of romance and heroism. Winner: Total Recall (1990)
Total Recall continues at the Carmike 12 and Village 6.