It is nearly impossible to judge the 2012 Total Recall without comparing it to its 1990 predecessor. Both films are loosely based on Philip K. Dick's novel We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. The reboot bears almost no resemblance to Dick's original story. Most notably, it dispenses with the Mars storyline completely in favor of an entirely Earth-based plot. Neither film uses the cool little twist at the end of Dick's novel, so perhaps we will someday see yet another film in the future. Total Recall (2012) is more action than sci-fi, which works in its favor at the beginning, but bogs down its second half. On its own merit the film is a fairly enjoyable, albeit lightweight, action-adventure flick.
Colin Farrell plays Doug Quaid, a factory worker who finds himself bored with his day-to-day life. He lives in a shabby apartment with his pretty wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale), longing to provide her something better. Every night he has a nightmare about being a secret agent trapped in an impossible situation. A mysterious woman fights at his side. Unable to cope with the nagging feeling that his life should be different, Quaid visits the memory implanting facility Rekall. He asks to become a double secret agent but before the procedure can take place, armed men swarm the office and Quaid is thrust into the very situation he had just asked for. So is it real or not?
That is the essential question of Total Recall. Not knowing what is fantasy and what is reality is the most intriguing aspect of the film. The theatrical version cut back on the ambiguity, but the director's cut, now available on Blu-ray, restores that element. Offering more about 12 minutes of additional footage, the director's cut expands the storyline slightly, adding a couple of key changes. I won't spoil what those exact changes are, but there are some fundamental differences to the characters of Doug and Melina (Jessica Biel).
I don't necessarily think those differences made the movie better, but it was interesting to see what director Len Wiseman had originally envisioned. What does work better is the alternate ending, which makes the “is it real or not” concept even more ambiguous. I also liked the subtlety of this change. If one is not paying close attention, or doesn't remember the theatrical ending, it might even be missed.