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The vacuous 2012 remake of Paul Verhoeven and Arnie’s masterpiece of existentialism and explosive gore plays out less like a real film, more like the video game adaptation of a film. It adopts the worst, most narratively reductive elements of video games and boils down its story into several piles of CG goop strung together with only the vaguest impression of a plotline. Total Recall 2012, you see, seems to miss the awkward truth that games only get away with crap storytelling structure because they have the interactive element as a distraction.
The gorgeously grimy production design creates an enticing, lived-in world (despite a jarring obsession with desaturated colours more overbearing than that of current-gen gaming). But like the backdrop of most action games, it’s there as scenery alone. Where the original film’s world was fleshed out and explored, the remake’s version, although superficially less cartoonish, exists only as a background for Colin Farrell to be chased through. The world and its supposed narrative texture exist only to facilitate action scenes. And even within the context of the action movie genre at large, Total Recall 2012 is utterly transparent with it.
It’s a problem exacerbated by the fact that the film is so functionally segmented into themed sections, in exactly the same way a licensed video game would turn the stand-out settings and set-pieces of a movie into novelty game mechanics for individual levels. There’s the shooting and chasing stuff of course, which makes up most of the film’s running time. But then, just like the ‘80s Ocean movie adaptations of old, there’s the token driving bit, the token sneaking bit, and even a platforming section shoehorned in for reasons I still can’t explain in terms of either plot or situation.
And of course, none of it ultimately matters, because in the end the whole thing boils down to a boss fight. Hordes of increasingly tough enemy lackeys dispatched, days of existential crisis dealt with, every issue in the entire film’s (admittedly barely detectable) plot is resolved by way of a one-on-one fist fight with Bryan Cranston amidst a tower top setting that wouldn’t look out of place as a Tekken arena. Though obviously not before the obligatory mini-boss battle with a troublesome robot.
And much like most climactic video game showdowns it’s a case of a hopelessly outgunned hero winning despite utterly implausible odds. Because let’s face it, Bryan Cranston would kick the crap out of Colin Farrell in real life.
Oh, and did I mention that every single shot is obscured halfway off the screen by artificial lens flare? Yeah, every single shot is obscured halfway off the screen by artificial lens flare. Syndicate has a lot to answer for.
So there are six of most gamey non-game films around. But are there any more? Have you spotted any of gaming's influence start to creep into any other not-officially-game-based movies over recent years? Let us know. And while we're on the subject, why not learn why the 1995 Mortal Kombat movie is the greatest and most accurate game adaptation ever, and check out what we want from the (hopefully inevitable) sequel to Wreck-It Ralph.