My summer movie season last year mostly sucked, and by the end of August, I just didn’t want to step foot inside another theatre for a long while. That was unfortunate for when Dredd was released in late September. I couldn’t get enthused for anything despite all the rave reviews this film got. Fortunately, I don’t seem to be alone in discovering this on the home video format as its sales and rentals have been on fire in the last two weeks. Thus, in the frigid icy winter weather, I dashed over to the Redbox outside of the CVS Pharmacy and rented it. So, what’s the simplest statement I can give to this film? It’s that I have no criticisms to levy against it. Dredd is AWESOME!
The future America is an irradiated waste land. On its East Coast, running from Boston to Washington DC, lies Mega City One – a vast, violent metropolis where criminals rule the chaotic streets. The only force of order lies with the urban cops called “Judges” who possess the combined powers of judge, jury and instant executioner. Known and feared throughout the city, Dredd (Karl Urban) is the ultimate Judge, challenged with ridding the city of its latest scourge – a dangerous drug epidemic that has users of “Slo-Mo” experiencing reality at a fraction of its normal speed. During a routine day on the job, Dredd is assigned to train and evaluate Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a rookie with powerful psychic abilities thanks to a genetic mutation. A heinous crime calls them to a neighborhood where fellow Judges rarely dare to venture – a 200 storey vertical slum controlled by prostitute turned drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) and her ruthless clan. When they capture one of the clan’s inner circle, Ma-Ma overtakes the compound’s control center and wages a dirty, vicious war against the Judges that proves she will stop at nothing to protect her empire. With the body count climbing and no way out, Dredd and Anderson must confront the odds and engage in the relentless battle for their survival.
Dredd is just full-on hard R-rated action that is brutal and relentless. Yet, it is not dumb by any means. Alex Garland wrote a very smart screenplay that keeps things rather simple, but has its own dramatic depth and character strengths. We don’t get long sit-downs with the characters to pine over their emotions and back stories. Instead, we get insights into them in solid, succinct moments that work towards the momentum of the film. Dredd himself remains hardened throughout never allowing anything to crack his weathered, tough exterior. However, the depth we get from him is in what he does, not so much what he exudes. He is a strict enforcer and abider of the law. He follows it to the letter, and doesn’t just kill someone because this is a graphic action film. His intentions are clearly stated making us aware of who is suited to be executed and who isn’t, and Dredd’s threats carry grave weight. He’s also calm, collected, and confident. He never lashes out. He’s calculated in everything he does. This guy is a bonafide bad ass who has been very weathered by this post-apocalyptic world that needs order more than anything else, and he’s deadest dedicated to that ideal. The situation that he’s in here, it’s just like every other day to him. For instance, when told to put Anderson in the deep end of the job, he says, “It’s all deep end.” This guy’s been through the worst this world has to offer, and he’s not afraid of any level of danger.
Karl Urban was a perfect fit for Judge Dredd. I’ve enjoyed him in every role I’ve seen him in from The Lord of the Rings to The Chronicles of Riddick to The Bourne Supremacy. He always seems to dedicate himself fully to all his roles, and he has some impressive talent that will carry him far. It also takes a special actor, dedicated to the character, to have his face almost entirely covered for the entire film. Dredd never removes his helmet, and we never see his face. Just that mouth and chin area is all we get, and some actors simply wouldn’t allow their face to never be seen on camera either by ego or principle. Urban doesn’t have that problem, and that quality of Dredd works to his advantage. It’s reflective of his attitude. He’s not the type to open up about himself, or allow any glimmer of weakness to show through. That aggressive visage of that helmet and visor create his ill-tempered demeanor, and Urban entirely absorbs himself into that mindset. Putting on that harder, gruffer voice mixed with a little bit of beard stubble and his grim expression creates a great heavy, gritty presence. He gives us the kind of bad ass, hardened character that I’ve not seen in a long time. It follows in the tradition of Snake Plissken and the Punisher, but it is that vehement dedication to law and justice which separates him from those sorts of anti-heroes. Urban sells this role with everything he’s got, and delivers on every level. This is a role that could easily become cliché in the wrong hands, but with Urban, Dredd is a serious force to be reckoned with that never fails to be interesting.
The character of Anderson is really handled greatly. She’s a fine counterpoint to Dredd in that she does have anxieties, apprehensions, and an emotional core to struggle with throughout the film. Carrying out an execution is not easy for her, but she does her job, regardless. The little details about her past are dropped in very comfortably, and work into the story seamlessly. Her psychic abilities make for an excellent cog in the plot, and even makes for some appropriately humorous moments. I think the best action films know how to drop in a little bit of humor and levity without it betraying the tone of the overall film. Dredd is no exception. Her psychic abilities even give us one very whacked out sequence where she goes into the head of Kay. It’s sexy, graphic, and frenetic in the most schizophrenic way. The beautiful Olivia Thirlby is truly excellent as Judge Anderson. She inhabits that very green rookie sensibility without falling onto clichés. There’s a genuine weight to what she brings to this role showing that Anderson is highly capable, but does not yet have the experience to hone her skills and emotions properly. Anderson has an excellent arc that has some fine pay-off in the end from Dredd himself. It’s a big learning experience for her that really fleshes the character out. She doesn’t get lost in Dredd’s shadow at all, and I think the filmmakers did an excellent job at that.
Also, Lena Headey portrays one deranged, depraved villain. She’s not “off the walls” crazy as the performance is rather subdued, but Ma-Ma does some crazy random violence that would require an R rating just to mention it. She’s a total sociopath, and really enjoys her torture to a grisly degree. She isn’t just going to kill you. That’s not enough. She’s going to send a message with your body, and make it loud and clear with a giant splat on the concrete! She’s sick and twisted complete with a scarred face, and it’s a glorious villain for a gloriously graphic action movie! The rest of the cast is rock solid with no one giving anything less than a top notch, full force performance.
The cinematography on this movie is really amazing. What stands out the most is the design of the “Slo-Mo” sequences. The high speed photography makes everything appear to be running in ultra slow motion, creating a gorgeous spectacle, aided by some CGI enhancements, that is simply stunning. It makes for a very enveloping experience along with the very aural, ethereal score to mimic the sensation this narcotic stimulates in its users. Conversely, everything beyond that is very gritty and textured. The sprawling landscape of Mega City One is very epic, and a desaturated color palette is used to set the grim tone right from the start. Dredd avoids making this some Blade Runner clone, and adopts its own realistic style for this industrialized and economically crumbling metropolis. The cinematography gives this film weight, scope, and depth that elevates its above your expectations. The action is all shot superbly showing full competence in how to stage and photograph even the most blisteringly intense sequences. Anthony Dod Mantle deserves an exceptional level of credit for the work he did shooting this picture, and giving such a solid and powerful visual style.
The action itself is bloody and brutal with people regularly getting shot in the face! If Dredd’s going to pass a sentence of death upon you, he’s going to wipe you out in the most explicit way possible. Maybe he’ll burn your skull from the inside out, set you ablaze, or maybe he’ll just pound some bullets into you. He does not hesitate, and he never wavers in his job. And of course, the villains dish out their own heavy duty warfare as well. Their biggest attempt at taking out Dredd and Anderson is when they unleash not one but two hardcore Gatling guns that rip through concrete destroying an entire level of the complex. It’s wicked awesome! There are numerous diverse sequences here that keep the action always interesting and immensely intense, and they are all handled superbly. One of the coolest sequences is when Dredd and Anderson bust in on some guys who are doing Slo-Mo, and thus, nearly all the action unfolds in that ultra slow motion style. Bullets rip through flesh in the most stunning way possible to where it’s practically gruesome artistry. I am just amazed at the depth of vision injected into this movie with sequences like that.
Dredd features an excellent, hard edged score by Paul Leonard-Morgan. He makes excellent use of driving, pulsating synth beats and some stellar distorted rock guitar. This is essentially a heavy metal synth score that actually works insanely well because of the hard hitting, gritty style of the movie, but also, it never bombards you. It flows along with the action and momentum of the film. The synthesizers really give the film more of an ominous, foreboding, relentless tone that build up the tension and anticipation while the guitars are there to kick ass. It’s almost 1980s like in its musicianship, and it’s always able to bring itself down to a more subtle place, when appropriate. Overall, this is one masterful, edgy, exhilarating action film score that entirely suits the futuristic, post-apocalyptic grit of Dredd.
What I think is most amazing about this movie is that it had only a $45 million budget, but looks like a far higher grade feature than those numbers would suggest. This demonstrates a team of filmmakers who knew about to get the most out of every dollar, and not waste their resources. There is not a single thing that looks cheap anywhere in this film. The sets, costumes, action set pieces, and visual effects are all high caliber quality showcasing amazing craftsmanship and artistry. And for those who care, this was shot in digital 3D, and from what I hear, Dredd looks fantastic in 3D. That is no surprise considering how stunning it looks in 2D. Everyone who worked on this film clearly put everything ounce of effort and passion they had into it, and I believe it exceeded all expectations. Still, I also like that the film doesn’t try to over stretch itself by becoming more than it needed to be. The film is ultimately quite ambitious, but the filmmakers didn’t push the proverbial envelope any further than they needed to with this story. All of the elements are smart and fit together beautifully. There’s a lot of subtle context and ideas within the film between the characters and ideas of justice, but all of it works towards the action centric plot. It’s very focused without being narrow, but never becomes broad.
Flat out, Dredd is an ass kicking, hard hitting bombastic action film that never hesitates to go all out, but never degrades itself with camp value or cheesy set pieces. It’s totally hardcore all the way, and should satisfy the hunger for any true action movie fan that’s desired a return to classic hard R rated films. I’m very impressed by Karl Urban’s performance, and if this were to become a franchise, I believe he could carry it to very exciting, riveting, and intriguing places. Director Pete Travis doesn’t really have much of a track record to speak of, but I hope that Dredd is the beginning of a very successful and notable one for him. This is really a visually magnificent film that brings all of its dynamic elements together into an intense cohesive whole. He has shown me something awesome and amazing with Dredd, and he’s not the only one to credit for it all. A whole team of excellently talent filmmakers came together to really nail this adaptation of the British comic strip. It is creatively successful without a blemish, in my view, and I hope that time will prove Dredd to be commercially successful as well.
For me, this was a “wait for it on cable” movie. The premise for this fourth film in the series simply did not appeal to me. Frankly, it seemed more like another Resident Evil sequel than an Underworld one. I straight up didn’t like the more science fiction edge to everything. It seemed to be trading off the wonderful depth of mythology and classy production design for hollow science and sleek, cold settings. I could not get excited to see this, and from the way the trailers looked, I wasn’t going to spend money to see it. Ultimately, I didn’t have to, and I’m glad for it. Underworld: Awakening is not worth spending your hard earned money to see.
The vampire and lycan species have been discovered by humanity, and have waged a war of annihilation against both. Twelve years later, vampire Death Dealer Selene (Kate Beckinsale) awakens from a cryogenic sleep in an Antigen genetics laboratory, and manages to escape her human imprisonment. On re-entering this world, she finds that the lycans are almost extinct, but somehow, have begun creating stronger, enhanced lycans. She also discovers that she has a twelve year old daughter, Eve (India Eisley), who is a vampire/lycan hybrid that everyone either fears or fights to re-capture for their own vile purposes. While on the run, Selene is aided by vampire David (Theo James) who brings her to a diminished coven hiding underground led by Thomas (Charles Dance), who does not welcome her presence knowing her past, but David stands with her in her fight. However, soon, all are thrown into danger as those who would use Selene’s daughter for a mysterious antidote abduct her, forcing Selene to take the fight directly back to Antigen, and uncover an unsettling truth.
I will say that the film didn’t turnout to be as bad as I anticipated it to be, but it wasn’t all that worthwhile either. This franchise feels about a half step away from going direct-to-video. The only thing that saves this film from feeling as such are the action sequences. They are still very high grade with big, slam bang stunts and good choreography. However, there are moments that felt a little too preposterous for me. Granted, Underworld: Evolution didn’t have the time to really show the potential of Selene’s newfound abilities, but some of them just seemed ridiculous and beyond the laws of physics in Awakening. Selene might be exceptionally strong now, but I don’t think that someone of Kate Beckinsale’s slim size and weight could possibly ram into a van and barrel it over like a freight train. Enhanced vampire strength or no, it’s just a little too much for me to buy. There are other little moments throughout the film that delve into that well of exaggeration. Some have a mild pay-off like Selene actually reaching into David’s chest and restarting his heart with her bare hand, but most are just there to amp up Selene beyond the suspension of my disbelief. It’s one blatant sign that the filmmakers have ceased to care about creating an interesting story, and just want to go for ridiculous indulgences.
The CGI might be a little better than the previous film – Rise of the Lycans – but it’s still not all that good. There are some sequences that are better than others, but on the whole, it’s still distinctly below the exemplary standards of the first two films. This mainly affects the appearance of the lycans themselves. Sometimes they look cartoonish and silly, other times they appear more real and believable. This could be the difference of some practical lycans having been used in some sequences as opposed to others. Still, it’s all a real lazy job done with them as a whole. None of the transformations were particularly impressive as they lack the harsh, visceral quality that we saw in the series’ earlier installments. It really is a mystery why, with more than triple the budget of the first movie and nine years of progress in digital effects, does the CGI here look inferior to that of the original 2003 Underworld. Maybe too much of that budget went to the 3D aspects of the film, which have no impact on a viewer who doesn’t view films in 3D, such as myself. The vast majority of the digital effects of this film are a substandard failure.
I will confirm to you that Scott Speedman does not reprise his role of Michael Corvin in this film, but the character does appear. The filmmakers simply hired a not-so-convincing look alike and used some digital effects to mask that fact, but it’s pretty clear to my eyes what they did. As a result, Michael is barely seen in the film, and I think that is a severe negative mark against this film. Firstly, what they did comes off as cheap and obvious. If they could have gotten Speedman, we could’ve at least had some substantive scenes with the character who was so pivotal to the start of this whole series. To do what they have done just feels disrespectful to the foundations of this franchise. Selene developed into the character we now know because of Michael, and everything erupted in this first film over Michael. To now sweep him under the rug or hide him in the dark corner works against the story that they have here. It feels like there’s this gaping hole in the film that is never plugged up due to his absence. It forces Selene into a more isolated and coldly violent state of mind which is a huge step backwards for her.
In the least, this felt like the wrong direction to take the series’ storyline in. The end of Underworld: Evolution left the possibilities wide open for something radically different and brave to be done. Instead, what we get is very bland and narrow. I also remember the filmmakers saying after Evolution that they weren’t going to go the route of Selene and Michael having a child together, but here it is. Not to mention, it’s done with the least amount of effort possible. It just feels like they took the creative low road, and it resulted in a cheap substitute for not having Michael present. There are now very few places they could take another sequel because they have setup a very restrictive world for our characters. They can’t simply exist in the world as it is. Any new film has to deal with vampires and lycans being exposed to the world at large, and thus, no film can just be about vampires and lycans anymore. This is what I do not like about this film’s premise. It takes the war between vampire and lycan and shoves humans prominently into it. This makes the human race the dominant aggressors due to manpower and resources. While the story is able to twist it back around to being primarily between the vampires and lycans, the world is already set as both races being fully exposed and hunted by humanity. That just drains all the interesting qualities from the base premise of this series. Compared to how immensely textured and fascinating these vampire and lycan characters had been, making humans such a large and oppressive cog in this dynamic hits like a dull thud to me. The history of both species are essentially meaningless now. None of that will be explored any further because it’s about genetics, cloning, and humans trying to eradicate both species like a plague. There’s no personal depth to humans being the enemy. The first two films were interesting because they dealt with personal loyalties, deceptions, secrets, lies, and emotional motivations on both sides. It was a very complex web that was intriguing to see unravel, but now, all of these fascinating characters are dead and none of the new ones have any textured history to explore. It’s very hollow, and that essentially explains this film in general. It’s a lot of flash and action with little substance. The story it tells doesn’t even push the franchise forward. It leaves it stalled out, dead in the water. This film really doesn’t care much for developed plots or characters, unlike it’s predecessors.
The actual villains in the film are boring to no end. There’s nothing on the page or in the performances to make an audience give a damn about what they’re doing or why. Stephen Rea is certainly a better actor than this film demonstrates. He’s entirely phoning this performance in. There’s no passion in anything he does as Dr. Jacob Lane, and the plot twist with him still left me not caring. No one else around him does anything worth caring about either. These are pointless, empty, disposable villains. I can feel the lack of giving a damn coming directly from the script. Previously, you’ve had Viktor, Lucian, and Markus as powerful, vibrant, and intense foils for our protagonists. They had a lush depth and emotional vigor that made them compelling to watch. They were written greatly and portrayed brilliantly by some amazing actors. They felt dimensional, real, and purposeful. The supposed villains of this film couldn’t be a more stark opposite to all of that. When the scripts start falling this far off in quality from where the franchise started, you know the direct-to-video market is not far away.
I will admit that Charles Dance does a rather good job as Thomas, the head of the diminished vampire coven. Dance puts in the effort to make a poignant impression upon the audience for Thomas to have relevance. I felt him channeling Bill Nighy a time or two with his line deliveries. Of course, it would’ve been wiser for him to not keep trying to talk through the vampire teeth, or at least, have him re-record his dialogue in post-production. It just seemed to impede his performance a little, but overall, Charles Dance did well here with a solid, dimensional performance. Theo James does a fair job as David, but ultimately, it’s a take it or leave it character and performance. There’s simply no depth or charisma coming from him. If he had remained dead, it wouldn’t have mattered to me. Much the same could be said for the rest of the supporting cast. They are just there to serve a role in the story, but they’re just disposable and forgettable. Whether they are given some substance or not, they just have no lasting impact. Even India Eisley offers nothing to endear herself to an audience. She should be someone we come to care about, but neither the script nor her performance give you anything to latch onto. Even when the previous films failed to reach an emotional connection with the audience, it wasn’t for a lack of trying by the screenwriters to give depth to the characters. Here, everyone just exists in the film for the sake of the plot, and they offer up nothing else beyond those narrow, shallow confines. I’d almost welcome another prequel film just to have some characters I care about show up again.
The film at least has something somewhat worthwhile for Kate Beckinsale to do. She’s given a decent emotional range to convey with some tears to shed, and some heartfelt concern to struggle with. However, again, it feels like a step down from where she was in Evolution where there was the bond with Michael to flesh her out and open her up, emotionally. Here, she’s even more cold blooded and vicious than ever before killing helpless humans left and right on a rampage to find the person she loves. As always, Beckinsale looks great, and handles the physical demands of the role excellently. Still, it is a film heavy on the action and lighter on substance. In the hands of a screenwriter with some enthusiasm and ambition, a great deal more could’ve been done with Selene in this premise. Themes could’ve been explored in depth about her uncertainty in this new world, and her finding a new purpose with or without Michael. The ideas of rebuilding the vampires as a strong species could’ve been grappled with more intensely as well. Instead, these are just background elements to the bland forefront storyline. I believe Beckinsale has said she will not come back for another film, and I think that’s a wise decision. She is a very good actress who should focus on expanding her career instead of shackling it to a franchise that is on a steep decline in creative quality. Not to mention, the filmmakers and screenwriters seem to have no ambition to push the character to anywhere that challenges Beckinsale. Rarely is any charisma ever is injected into the character, either. Any expansion on the character’s range is marginal from film-to-film. There are leaps and bounds they could take Selene with some powerful new stories, but there is just no place for that in this franchise, four films on. Underworld has settled into a straight action film franchise with some thin emotional strands and increasingly weaker plots and characters.
I think the problem with the franchise is that the filmmakers have never been confronted with the problems of the films. Therefore, they have never had critical pressure put on them to improve the aspects that have dragged along unchecked from movie to movie. The odd thing is that they have all been different problems in each movie. Whether it’s a lack of emotional vibrancy, thoroughly fleshed out stories, or a prequel that doesn’t just retread the same back story we’ve already been told about, the screenwriters and filmmakers just can’t balance out the vital aspects of these films. There simply doesn’t seem to be a fire lit under the filmmakers of this franchise to push themselves to do more with it. They settle for something adequate instead of striving for exceptional. Underworld: Awakening is a blatant example of that slipping, lax attitude.
I honestly only took the time to watch this film in order to round out my reviews of the franchise. There was nothing I saw of this marketing campaign that gave me any confidence in this sequel. It is excessively mediocre in almost every aspect. While I have never viewed any of the films in this series as great, there has been potential here and there that has just never been put together in the same film. The best aspects of one film combined with those of another could be forged into just the right mix of story, action, and character to make a fully satisfying film. Instead, we either get something too oppressive in tone and complex in story dragging the excitement of the film away, or something with a lot of good action and excitement with not enough substance to make it feel like a full film. Underworld: Awakening is the latter done to an excessive degree in addition to populating itself with an array of forgettable characters and bland performances. It’s never an outright bad film. It’s just one I fail to care at all about, same as the filmmakers, evidently. The creative forces behind this film put forth no effort to improve upon the franchise when there was ample opportunity to do so. It’s disappointing when a franchise fails to reach its full potential when it has good ideas and good talent to start with. It’s just plain sad when those in charge of it simply stop trying, and that summarizes my feeling on the Underworld series as a whole. If another sequel is to come, I deeply hope the studio brings some talented writers and filmmakers on board with some original, ambitious ideas to revitalize this series.
I never cared for the original Total Recall from director Paul Verhoeven. It has always come off as a little too low grade and too strange for my aesthetic tastes. So, I had no qualms about this remake or re-adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.” Plus, trading the corny camp fun of Verhoeven’s movie for a more serious action thriller tone does more consistently appeal to my tastes. Although, I also did not have high expectations for this movie. The film seemed mildly worth checking out, and it turns out to be just exactly that. It’s surely not a bad film by any stretch, just an underdeveloped one that fails to truly grab hold of an audience tightly.
In the late twenty-first century, global chemical warfare has made the vast majority of the world uninhabitable, and Earth is divided into two superpowers, the United Federation of Britain and The Colony, who are locked in a battle for supremacy to unify the world. Citizens of The Colony and the UFB travel between the two nations via a super massive underground gravity elevator, called “The Fall”, which takes them directly through the core of the Earth, emerging on the opposite side of the planet in under 20 minutes. Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a factory worker who, despite having a beautiful, loving wife in Lori (Kate Beckinsale), is plagued by violent nightmares and has grown tired of his monotonous life in The Colony. Welcome to Rekall, the company that can turn your dreams into real memories. For Quaid, the mind-trip sounds like the perfect vacation from his frustrating life – real memories of life as a super-spy might be just what he needs. However, when the procedure goes horribly wrong, Quaid becomes a hunted man. His wife tries to kill him revealing herself to be a highly trained undercover UFB agent. Finding himself on the run from the police – controlled by Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), the leader of the free world – Quaid teams up with rebel fighter Melina (Jessica Biel) to find Matthias, the head of the underground resistance (Bill Nighy), and stop Cohaagen. The line between fantasy and reality gets blurred and the fate of his world hangs in the balance as Quaid discovers his true identity, his true love, and his true fate.
This film showcased some potential. I think it had some very good talents behind it, and a solid, fresh direction on where to go with itself. As I said, there is nothing outright bad about this Total Recall. The action is sensational most times. There are very inventive action sequences all over this film backed up by some mostly excellent cinematography and editing. There are few hectic moments where it gets close to that shaky-cam quick cut mentality, but backs off it enough to avoid raising my ire. The more physically demanding action set pieces are greatly conceived and executed. Director Len Wiseman has always believed in doing stunts and effects as much practically as possible, and that always adds more punch to his action. Everything looked like real people doing real stunts, and that is immensely admirable. More effects heavy sequences are also nicely done with no CGI ever looking cheap. The visual effects teams did a remarkable job creating a very realistic, seamless futuristic world. Even the robotic soldiers appeared entirely photorealistic and interacted with the actual actors naturally. However, despite this, I couldn’t really get into the film like a normal action movie. Despite seeing it on opening night, the very large theatre I was in was barely one quarter full, if that much, and no one else ever seemed to have any rousing reaction to what was happening in the movie. It’s not the action that’s the issue, it’s the underdeveloped characters.
I don’t necessarily feel anyone was miscast in the film. I do feel that the screenplay did very little to develop Colin Farrell’s Douglas Quaid or any of the other protagonists. The beginning of the film is nicely setup as most anyone can relate to Quaid’s situation. He’s an everyman that’s a slave to the grind who just has the need for something more in his life, some kind of release. You can really sympathize with him through this part of the film as every element of it is wonderfully executed with the right emotional touches. However, once the plot kicks in, and he is thrust into this intense situation where he doesn’t know what’s happening or why, his character becomes terribly lacking in development or depth. The film has little moments here and there that try to have the audience connect with Quaid, but it’s just never enough. These moments just fall a little too flat because there’s no real substance behind them. Colin Farrell can be charismatic and very fun in the right roles. He does have the ability to give a very strong, dimensional, and entertaining performance. However, the script just doesn’t give his character enough depth for Farrell to sink his talent into. I never got all the way invested in Quaid to feel the peril or excitement of the situations he was in. I truly tried because I wanted to enjoy this movie, but these characters are not exciting. You never get into the soul of this character to feel his struggle, or wrap yourself up in his potential mind-bending confusion. While the action sequences are excellent, I just couldn’t get emotionally invested to care all that much of what happened in them.
The exact same goes for Jessica Biel as Melina. She’s supposed to be the love interest to Quaid’s alter ego, but there’s no spark present. The screenplay almost never gives the characters a moment to connect for the audience’s sake. I never felt a single strand of emotional bond between the characters, and that’s such a sorely missed opportunity to give the film some emotional substance. It’s so hard to even say whether or not Farrell and Biel have any chemistry together because the love interest angle is barely played up at all to know that. It’s really just 98% action sequences between them, and 2% character development. Even beyond that, the Melina character just doesn’t bring anything substantive to the table. Again, there is no emotional depth or scripted material to offer up an exciting performance. I was left with a rather blank impression of the character. Again, I don’t think the fault falls on Jessica Biel, it’s a failing of the script.
I also strongly believe that Bill Nighy was criminally underused in this film. His character of Matthias is meant to be an integral figure in this world, but he has essentially one scene which is not written the best it could have been. Matthias talks some philosophy about self-identity, but it’s very abrupt and clunky how the conversation starts. There’s no natural flow to it. It’s clear that his words are meant to have some meaning, but ultimately, become terribly hollow as the film explores none of the ideas he brings up. It feels very shoehorned in as a quick attempt to make him an insightful character, but it just came off as rushed and purposeless. I anticipated a more poignant and climactic meeting between Quaid and Matthias. I anticipated it being a scene where we learn more in depth about the man that Quaid was to gain perspective on the dichotomy between who he is now and who he was before. It would be a pivotal moment where Quaid has to make a real decision on who he wants to be, and what path he wants to take from here on out. No such moment exists in this film. The screenwriters seemed to give the minimal effort towards the conflict of identity in Douglas Quaid. There’s more confusion from him over the grand scheme plot than his own internal conflict, which is a gross missed opportunity in a film that seemed to have a lot of potential on the surface. It was also distracting that Bill Nighy put on an American accent for this role, which seems to have had no true purpose. He is also greatly low key. One would think that the leader of a resistance movement would be a naturally charismatic or inspiring individual, but Nighy plays Matthias with none of those qualities. I will say that it’s a nice change of pace to see the usually more intense and theatrical Nighy put forth a more reserved performance, but it just didn’t seem to fit here.
Conversely, the villains of this film are greatly charismatic, energetic, and very enjoyable. Kate Beckinsale is easily the best thing about the movie. Her scenes at the beginning as Doug’s wife are very heartfelt and genuine. There is no question about the authenticity of their relationship and love. However, once everything turns around on itself, she becomes an amazing villain. She drops her American accent and plunges full into her natural British one with a wealth of devilish charisma and dogged motivation. Lori loves the violent requirements of her job, and takes great, ruthless pleasure in hunting down her prey. Beckinsale can kick ass with the best of them as she is involved in some fantastic and stunningly impressive fight scenes which are very physically demanding. It’s amazing what she does in this vicious and entertaining role. She just eats up every ounce of villainy, and clearly has a wealth of fun in the process. I consistently loved what the film did with her right from the start all the way through to the end. I can’t say enough about Beckinsale’s performance here.
Also, Bryan Cranston just storms into the film with authority and charisma. He portrays a great bad guy in Cohaagen. He throws a lot of power into the character making him a force to contend with. You don’t need much convincing that Cohaagen is a cutthroat, menacing bad guy. He unquestionably feels like a man in power, a man in control that has some very sordid and diabolical plans setup. This is a role that could have easily gone over the top, but Cranston keeps the character grounded and realistic, as do all the actors. No one ever indulges in cheesy or corny contrivances. Tonally, it’s a far more serious and straight forward movie than the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger version. That’s a refreshing take, and all the actors really grasp onto that cohesively. It is great that the villains are very formidable and enjoyable, but when the heroes are downplayed so much, it really takes the overall entertainment value out of the movie. Had the heroes been as exciting and entertaining as the villains, this would be an immensely fun movie.
I noticed this next thing from the trailer, and it started to hit me more as the film got going. Total Recall seems almost like a science fiction version of The Bourne Identity. How Quaid just instinctually takes down all the armored police is dead-on to how Jason Bourne assaults the two police officers in the snowy park early on in The Bourne Identity. There’s even a secretly hidden safety deposit box number where Quaid goes to obtain passports and other spy trade gear, just like in The Bourne Identity. There are more vague connections here and there, but this issue dissolves quickly after the safety deposit box scene. It’s not something that really bothers me much now, but more something that snagged my scrutiny in the moment.
Again, the film mainly takes place in two different locations. The early part of the film is largely contained within the Colony, and I love the production design of it. It was nice to see Len Wiseman break out of his monotone funk, and give us a more varied, yet still restrained color palette. The Colony is almost always seen at night with shadowy lighting schemes which give the film a dark richness. Colors are not vibrant, but they have a strong atmospheric presence. Blues, greens, reds, and ambers accented by moody lighting really were a pleasure for my eyes. Everything had a seedy, almost noir quality to it. Considering this is all based on a work by Philip K. Dick, it’s no surprise that there is some Blade Runner feel to the design of this world, but it has plenty of fresh ideas to offer as well. The design of the city’s housing comes off as very utilitarian and modular that is continually built upwards. It looks very logical as a world that could practically exist in our own possible future. It also certainly makes for a great design element for the film’s early chase sequences as Doug Quaid is constantly falling downwards to street level as it progresses. However, it did seem odd that while the Colony actually used to be Australia, everything about the culture seemed more like Tokyo, Bangkok, or Singapore. I think it’s an amazing world that was created, but nothing is ever explained why Australia now has a predominantly Asian cultural aesthetic.
The United Federation of Britain has a far cleaner, but also sterile and bland design. While the film starts off with a very moody and dark visual style, it now loses a great deal of visual pop when moving into the UFB. Those scenes are almost entirely during the daytime, and I do very much understand and endorse showing the visual differences between the low class Colony and the more prosperous UFB. I just think a little more color could’ve gone a long way to improve the visual flare of this portion of the film. Everything is very white, very clinical making a lot of locales very indistinct. There’s no character or personality to anything in this environment. Much of this is meant to be London of the future, and that is definitely a city with a lot of cultural personality today. So, it would’ve helped to reflect some of that in these designs since the bulk of the movie takes place there. As it is, after a while, it all just blends into forgettable backgrounds.
Regardless of these production design choices, director of photography Paul Cameron does an amazing job shooting this film. It looks very slick and smart all the way through. His cinematography showcases a great sense of geography and composition in the hectic action sequences, and brings fine visual credibility to the dramatic scenes. It’s very beautifully shot and lit all the way around giving us a film that shows us where the money went. I truly got a wonderful cinematic visual sense from this movie.
Everything in these worlds is smartly designed. The robotic soldiers, the hover cars, the weaponry, and computer interfaces all appear to be part of a cohesive world. With this futuristic Earth being what it is, there are likely very few corporations or manufacturers, and so, much of this technology would likely be produced and designed by the same organizations. Everything has a practical and logic design to it. Nothing’s overcomplicated or ridiculous, which some future-based movies can lose sight of sometimes.
However, ultimately, it all has to come back to the script. I think Total Recall could’ve done with a little less action and little more time spent focusing on the plot. The action seems to just whisk an audience away to another part of the plot instead of the plot developing itself. We get explanations and motivations, but the details of this world are never fleshed out. We never get the true sense of division between the Colony and the UFB. We don’t get to know how both worlds live, and what the true cultural divisions are between them. We never learn if there’s a deep seeded resentment between the two, and “The Fall” is not given any poignancy by the characters. They never comment on it being a “symbol of oppression.” That’s only ever stated by news people in the film, and the film shows how the media is easily manipulated. While the Colony does feel like a lower class lifestyle, I never got the sense from the characters that it was an oppressive society let alone why a resistance movement was necessary. The story also never gives us a sense of breadth or impact on a larger scale. I didn’t really fear for the residents of the Colony later on when there’s a invasion force on its way. The film doesn’t take the time to build up the threat level to a fever pitch, or give us a foreboding sense of dread. The focus is too narrow and too shallow to make the stakes feel big enough. Total Recall had the tools and talent in most areas to develop these issues with some purpose and depth, but really didn’t push for it. Screenwriters Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback have done work on films that I have very highly enjoyed. Wimmer co-wrote The Thomas Crown Affair remake and Street Kings while Mark Bomback wrote the Hugh Jackman / Ewan McGregor thriller Deception and did re-writes on Constantine. So, I know they have potential for producing more well rounded and satisfying scripts, but Total Recall feels too focused on action and not enough on substance. That would likely make for a thrilling video game with elaborate action sequences, one different than the last with a lot of unique obstacles, but only moderately developed story strung between them. It’s certainly not that bad in this film, but you could probably take this exact script and hand it over to a video game developer without changing much.
There is a plot hole that puzzled me in how Cohaagen and his forces were able to locate Matthias. No reason is ever given on if they tracked Quaid and Melina, or even how they might’ve done it since the two of them traveled to meet Matthias via subway and Cohaagen’s forces all flew in. They just happen to be there, somehow, and storm in out of nowhere with no explanations. This is definitely a plot hole that none of the characters attempt to plug up at all. Total Recall doesn’t feel like a film with multiple plot holes, just a film that doesn’t develop it’s plot details or characters as well as it could have.
I’m sure there are those who will find some excitement and fun with this film. The action is marvelously well done and inventive. Len Wiseman has evolved into an excellent director of action. He knows the mechanics of creating solid and thrilling action sequences with competent, coherent editing and cinematography. There are absolutely no flaws at all with those aspects of this film. Leading up to the climax, there’s actually a zero gravity shootout in “The Fall” that was smartly done, but still lacks a sense of wit or rousing action to really rile me up. There’s plenty here to potentially enjoy, but I just never got enough substance from the film’s heroes to feel gung ho about them kicking some ass. Had the script given more time to the characters and developing the details of the world of Total Recall, opening it up for more depth, texture, charm, and emotional dynamics, I likely would’ve highly enjoyed myself. I would not be opposed to a second viewing of the film, but I wouldn’t expect too much of an improvement on my opinion. I would never classify 2012’s Total Recall as a bad movie, just fairly okay one. Its potential really shows on screen, but on the page, it just didn’t deliver.