I had no real expectations about this movie, but came away impressed. I am a huge fan of science fiction films, but not enough to keep watching if the particular movie is absolutely atrocious or doesn't hold my interest. Fortunately, that wasn't the case at all here.
The very first thing I noticed was the very well-done backdrop upon which the story takes place. This isn't another sci-fi movie set on a sparsely populated desert or jungle planet with some aliens and laser guns thrown in to make it futuristic, or on some generic small space station in tight corridors. Nope, you see the whole Earth, big cityscapes, giant intra-planetary elevators connecting the hemispheres, dingy retro-futuristic slums, and much more, all brought to life with surprising attention to detail and style. And yeah, it really looks good.
Contrasting the previous incarnation of the film, the action doesn't take place on Mars, but on a post-nuclear war Earth with the two remaining governments existing in radiation-free zones in Europe and Australia. The British/European colony is your typical futuristic Utopia with a dirty little secret, while Australia / "The Colony" is portrayed as much grittier and darker. It's not quite dystopian per se, but it has a grungy mega-city feel clearly inspired by Blade Runner and maybe with a little bit of the "Dredd" remake aesthetic thrown in. This dichotomy brings to mind another recent film, Upside Down, which also had gorgeous visuals, but of a twin-planet system where the "Up Above" world was a veritable Utopia that fed off the poor, working class world of "Down Below." However, while Upside Down focused more on a dramatic love story and the clever - if implausible - premise, Total Recall is all about the action.
That action does not disappoint. There's a great exposition in the beginning, showing off and establishing the world and backstory, and introducing us to Colin Farrell's role as Quiad the factory worker. Once the inevitable secret is slipped, great chase and fight scenes abound, interspersed by segments which build on the story and add a decent (but not "thriller"-worthy) amount of suspense and mystery. As can be expected, CGI is highly utilized for the action, but it's well done and never feels like it's there just to exist.
The story is a fresh take on the original, but to me was just as appealing. The political and social overtones are there, but honestly aren't any more obvious than in something like, say, the original RoboCop (still haven't seen the remake of that one), which was very well received. Though I won't spoil it, the mystery behind the "original" Quaid and who he was/is kept me guessing literally til the end. The acting was also well done, bringing life to the story. Colin Farrell was particularly entertaining to watch. as he is good with the character-driven parts and very convincing with subtleties in his performance during the action. As a factory worker, Quaid knows he "shouldn't" know all these crazy action moves he is performing, and seems continually surprised by himself as his former-self's reflexes and hidden knowledge keep his present-self alive. All of the supporting roles are well played as well, with lots of big names offering quality acting, even when the script isn't the most outstanding.
Overall, I am very happy with this rendition of Philip K Dick's original story. I am more surprised than anything, really, because I had heard it was a very mediocre reboot, but as far as sci-fi action films go, I don't think you could ask for anything more. It combines visuals almost as beautiful as those in the sappy "Upside Down" with a backstory almost as clever as the one in "Source Code" with better action than either. I would highly recommend at least giving this iteration a try, for fans of action, adventure, or science fiction movies.
One thing to note was that the copy I ordered in early March 2014 had one short potion of the sound and dialogue completely out of sync with the picture. It was near the beginning and the issue was cleared in a couple of minutes, but it was still annoying. I'm thinking of asking for an item exchange, but I'm not sure if it's just on my copy or others as well, and honestly it may not even be distracting enough to be worth the return hassle.