A Detailed Look at Total Recall and Bourne Legacy
By Bret Dorman
Let’s get a couple things straight. Remakes and Reboots generally have a bad vibe associated with them. “There’s too many crappy sequels, adaptations, remakes and reboots,” people shout! “Doesn’t Hollywood have any ORIGINAL ideas?” Well, yes and no. There are plenty of original movies out there. But those movies don’t make mega bank like Transformers or Batman or Spiderman. Reboots and Remakes can be good things. They can. The two biggest problems are they way the filmmakers approach the film and the way audiences see the newer one when compared to the ‘original.’When it comes to filmmakers, I wouldn’t mind actually seeing one story told several different ways. One of my biggest complaints about The Thing was it tried TOO much to be like John Carpenter’s version when John Carpenter specifically went out of his way to take a different approach from The Thing From Another World. He used the 50’s version as a launching pad for his own story where as the 2011 version used John Carpenter’s as a blue print to detail EXACTLY what happened in the Norwegian Camp while hitting all the same beats.
There’s already talk of ‘rebooting’ The Batman series. Good. I’m all for it. To try and continue the story that Nolan was telling without Nolan himself would be silly. What we don’t need is another origin story. Yes there is a difference. The Amazing Spiderman wasted a good chunk of its time retelling how Peter Parker got his powers. Boring… The Incredible Hulk and The Punisher Warzone both undid their entire first movies’ origins in a manner of a couple flashbacks or dialogue scenes.I’m very much looking forward to a remake of Oldboy and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but both promise to be ‘dark’ and ‘gritty,’ which is great in theory, but Hollywood RARELY goes dark and gritty. Prometheus and Dark Knight Trilogy are about the closest it’ll get. And even those have some feel good padding to soften the cynical blows.
I do think some movies are non-remakeable. Taxi Driver. Jaws. Blade Runner. But if someone wanted to remake them, I wouldn’t see them as harming the originals. I would HOPE that they have good intentions and a different take on the stories. The thing is people perceive remakes as sort of final versions. Tim Burton’s Batman was THE film version. Then Schumacher’s tainted it. Then Nolan made THE definitive version that so many people love. Now if there is a new one they’ll see that as THE version, even if they like Nolan’s better. They’ll be angry or disappointed. I get that film is different than comics, but superheroes have been under different writers/artists for years. It seems silly to limit their film counterparts to just one version. Yes, I prefer different versions, but as long as they keep the spirit of the character I look forward to the different interpretations.
One thing critics (and regular people) need to keep their distance from is criticizing a movie for what it SHOULD have been. Obviously people can have negative criticisms, but it’s best to try and judge a movie on what it was going for instead of what you wish you saw. I love playing “The Casting Game” and picking certain actors or even writers/directors who I would LIKE to see do certain roles or movies, but to say that those people would definitively have been better is kind of silly. Of course I’m going to like the version in my head. In the real world however, there’s so many factors that go into who is cast and how they perform.
Now that we got all that background out of the way. Let’s move into the meat of the matter. Spoilers! will apply for the two following movies and their originals/predecessors.Total Recall – Len Wiseman and crew take a fantastic approach to remaking Paul Verhoeven’s version and at the same time are extremely flawed and limited by the beats of the original. Verhoeven’s is over the top, comical, even silly and outrageous at times. Wiseman turns that on its head and goes for more realistic, grounded, and gritty. Perfect. That is how a remake should be approached. The only problem is… the movie still tries to keep in the same beats as before and to its own detriment.
I appreciate the three boobed lady as much as the next Total Recall fan (or guy in general). Her cameo didn’t seem out of place or forced to me. Rekall had a sort of seedy vibe about it and he went to a place with red neon lights, dub step music, and glowing tattoos. Being approached by a prostitute who had special weird future enhancements seemed to fit right in. I like the inclusion of the line “If I’m not me, then who the hell am I” and the ‘Two Weeks’ lady cameo (although observant movie watchers will notice the older Asian man’s face on a passport in the previous security box bank scene). What seemed severely out of place was when Farrell’s buddy came in to talk him down, especially telling him to shoot Jessica Biel. You could argue that the scene in the 90’s version is better (and it is), but it also makes more sense. Here they had to have it to have it and it didn’t feel as organic. Also, the story flows better in the original whereas here we are left with questions like why did Bryan Cranston’s character have Farrell successfully infiltrate the rebels, only to have him captured? Was the Rekall visit part of the plan? I don’t think so because Beckinsale states an agent (the friend?) told her he went there so that’s why the team shows up immediately. And Cranston himself says it was unfortunate Ferrell popped his memory cap. Yet he seems pleased that Farrell lead him right to Bill Nighy. So the plan was to have Farrell infiltrate the rebels to build a report, then take him away and NOT have him go back, then have him go back and follow him (somehow, even though his phone has been removed) until he takes them to the rebel leader. Right…The movie is filled with stupid little things as well. Farrell takes the phone call in his hand and goes to display. The guy on the other end says something like “It’s your phone! That’s how they’ve been tracking you!” Been tracking him? Beckinsale and the robots had a direct eye line on him that whole chase… they didn’t need to ‘track him’ using the phone up till then… (also, if they have robot policemen why do they need so many regular policemen? And why do the robot policemen sometimes act as shields (awesome) and sometimes just get shot and fall down ‘dead?’) Also Farrell shows “The New Guy” how to properly hold the robot chest piece so he doesn’t get injured and two seconds later the guy goes back to holding it the wrong way. The John Cho Rekall sell scene is cringe-worthy as I felt I was watching someone try to recite The Matrix to a friend who had never seen it.
And yet I can’t help but have fun watching the newest Total Recall. I first came out of the movie floored by its small touches and flair for action, but having listened to the podcasts, read the reviews, and seen it a second time I know that everything I like about Total Recall is not specifically because it is Total Recall. I like the small moments, not the big ones. I am more excited by Total Recall because I think it shows Wiseman’s getting better at action (Underworld had terrible action and Die Hard had some good stuff). There’s moments where Beckinsale slide across the floor and immediately transitions to on top of Farrell and beating him up. Then seconds later Farrell fakes her out by seemingly going for the dropped gun and instead crashing through their tiny conveniently placed window and onto the rooftops. Near the middle Beckinsale is running to an elevator, misses the door, but drops in through the already broken through ceiling, all in one fluid shot. There’s a severely underused gravity-net-whip-gun and a cool little zero gravity gun fight moment. All around the martial arts is pretty tight and Beckinsale (despite having some corny one-liners) is a very formidable foe who is always nipping at Farrell’s heels.The biggest shame of Total Recall isn’t that it’s a bad movie, because its not. The problem is it is retrained by having to stay true the beats of the original while making some changes just to make changes that lead to the overall plot being a convoluted mess. The more subtle and mind boggling “is it or isn’t it a dream” aspect is replaced by a couple scenes here or there where a character will outright say “you are dreaming,” thus loosing its subtlety and charm. The actual action itself is very well executed but halfway through I felt myself asking “What’s it all for?” The Bourne Legacy – “What’s it all for?” will definitely be a question most people will be asking after leaving Legacy. Jeremy Renner is on a selfish mission and kills plenty of innocent people. The movie spends a lot of time in the aftermath of The Damon Trilogy and expands on the world of secret spies to a nauseating degree. Badguys sit in rooms looking at monitors, never coming into direct contact with the hero. Chemistry and ‘science’ play a big role and Rachel Weisz spends a lot of time talking about them both.
Legacy is a clinical and cynical look at real life spies and human control/manipulation. A lot of people will be turned off by all the talking, but I love the way Gilroy nails the rhythms and speech of the bureaucratic elements of the spy world. Those familiar with his other two writing/directing projects Michael Clayton and Duplicity may appreciate his cold approach to the human condition and organizations, but die hard Bourne fans may feel the new take is too different. Renner hasn’t lost his memory. He doesn’t question his moral choices. All the talk of chems and viraling out “complicate” the plot to a dizzying degree.I however liked Renner’s character. He starts off (in the timeline of the movie) too dumb to join the army. As he gets smarter and smarter taking his chems, he gets too smart for the people behind Alcom. He starts asking questions. This is bad. The C.I.A. doesn’t need spies who ask questions. They need hitmen, weapons, they can control. To me the whole Treadstone, Blackbriar, Alcome, Larx-3 system is one big trial and error to find the perfect way to make the perfect assassin. Each one takes a slightly different approach, informing the one after it allowing for tweaking and such. It’s why the guy who goes on the killing rampage does what he does. He is being manipulated into shutting down all the top level scientists at the facility.
I’m not a devout conspiracy theorist myself but I’ve done a bit of listening to podcasts on the subject and occasional Wikipedia browsings on the C.I.A. and MK-ULTRA and Jonestown and JFK/MLK Jr assassinations. Legacy seems much more concerned with explaining these things, merely using the actions of Bourne as a backdrop for Renner to fight some people. I connected more with Legacy because it is much more about the process. Sure the badguys are usually a step behind but it shows every step of them catching up to Renner and Weisz in the Philippines. The Damon Trilogy has this problem (especially due to the amnesia) where they keep adding elements in the sequels that expand on the backstory. But it’s done in a way that’s kind of sloppy. Like “Oh btw this thing happened. Oh and fyi this thing happened BEFORE that! OH and OMG YOU’LL NEVER BELIEVE THIS THING HAPPENED BEFORE ALL OF THAT!!!” I’m not sure how much of the original trilogy versus this new one are based on the book but you can tell Gilroy has more freedom here. The problem is it feels too different from the Damon-Bourne that people won’t want to accept it.I like the Damon Bourne’s enough (own the first two on DVD to catch up before the third which I never got around to owning, which is also generally accepted as the weakest of the three) but I definitely like this new direction more. It feels more real. The first real Renner beatdown in the house saving Weisz is very strong. The Factory Break-in is amazing. The way Renner tells Weisz to act like she belongs there and how confident he is in his hide in plain sight infiltration are small touches into how a real spy would act. The Lab/Lone Gunman scene is very haunting. And the Manila Chase is just as clinical in it’s display as the dialogue scenes.
It makes sense we want to compare Renner and Damon but to say Legacy is bad because it didn’t have stuff the Damon’s one had is kind of silly. If I want an amnesiac spy who questions his moral choices I’ll watch Damon. If I want a spy who is on a mission to retain his strength and intelligence so he can stay alive I’ll watch Renner.
So there you have it. Total Recall suffers because its filmmakers can’t escape the beats that made the first so enjoyable and Legacy suffers because the audience is indeed too attached to Bourne’s name and character. While both movies take the right mentality, changing things up and offering a new perspective, they still can not escape their cinematic pasts. Does this make them bad movies? No. Would it be nicer to see more chances or original takes that aren’t DIRECT remakes but rather spiritual ones (think Yojimbo ->;; Fistful of Dollars ->;; Last Man Standing)? Yeah… sure…
All I know is that what these two movies do right I’d like to see more action movies do right. The flaws are their own… but their strengths should be the strengths of all.
So what do you think? Should Hollywood give up on all remakes and reboots altogether? Or do you like the idea of going back to some beloved classics and offering a new, and not necessarily better, take on the material?