The 2012 film version of Total Recall borrows a lot of elements and plot storylines from the original 1990 movie, but with some differences. The 1990 movie had the setting both on a war-torn Earth and on Mars. The 2012 movie setting is solely on Earth in the 2050s, which has been devastated by nuclear and chemical warfare that has left only two places on Earth habitable: the mega city of London, England and the continent of Australia. Quaid lives in the Australian Free Colony and he commutes daily to work in London via a planetary shuttle that travels through a tunnel leading through the center of the Earth. There is no Richter character chasing Quaid in the 2012 movie, as the role of Quaid's relentless pursuer is taken over by Lori; in the 1990 movie, Lori has a much smaller role in chasing Quaid. Also of note, in the 2012 film, Lori speaks with a flat, middle-class American accent during the early scenes. Later, when she attempts to kill Quaid and reveals her true alliances, her accent immediately changes to an upper class British accent, which is her apparently natural accent that she uses for the duration of the 2012 film. The 2012 version focuses entirely on Quaid's point of view and rarely shows the viewpoints of Lori and the other villains chasing him. For example, Cohaagen does not appear until the final 30 minutes of the 2012 film when he first meets Quaid face to face, whereas he is featured very occasionally throughout the 1990 movie.
Both movies feature a brief appearance by a three-breasted prostitute whom Quaid encounters. In the 1990 version Quaid meets her on Mars later in the film, whereas in the 2012 version, Quaid encounters her quite early before he gets chased. Quaid travels to Mars to meet with Melina in the 1990 film, while in the 2012 film, it is Melina who goes to meet with Quaid first after she rescues him from Lori and her henchmen chasing him. Due to the advances of technology as well as CGI, many of the car chase scenes in the 2012 film use hovercraft cars that can levitate, whereas in the 1990 film the cars are ground-wheeled vehicles. The mutant taxi driver Benny, who betrays Quaid and Melina to the Mars government troops under Cohaagen and Richter in the 1990 film, is absent here. It is a computer memory chip implanted in Quaid's brain that doubles as a tracking device when activated which leads the government troops under Cohaagen and Lori to the rebels' hidden base.
The ruse to try to trick Quaid into believing that this whole thing is a dream while he is in a coma and being monitored at the Rekall clinic is featured in both movies, with some differences (The 1990 version had Quaid in the privacy of his hotel room on Mars being persuaded by Rekall director Dr. Edgemar and Lori, while the 2012 version has Quaid in a public plaza square with his friend, Harry, trying to persuade him to kill Melina standing nearby to free himself of his fantasy while a crowd of people and a group of soldiers with their guns pointed at Quaid are featured. In the 1990 version, it is a drop of sweat running down the side of Dr. Edgemar's head that makes Quaid realize that he might be in reality after all, while in the 2012 version it is a teardrop from the frightened Melina's eye that makes Quaid realize the same). In the 1990 film, Quaid uses a mask to disguise himself as a large woman to get past Mars customs, while in the 2012 film, Quaid uses a holographic image to disguise himself as an old man to get past the London customs security. In the 2012, there is a red herring and nod to the 1990 film as there is a old woman standing in front of Quaid who mentions she will be staying in London for two weeks, which is meant to mislead the viewers into thinking that she is Quaid in disguise (in the 1990 film, Quaid mentions "two weeks" while in disguise as the large woman regarding how long he will be staying on Mars).
Quato, the leader of the rebels in the 1990 version, was a clairvoyant Martian mutant. In the 2012 version, he is a man called Matthias, who is the human leader of the resistance against the United Federation of Britain. Coohagen's plot in the 1990 version is to prevent the alien machinery on Mars from being activated, because it would make Mars a habitable planet again, and effectively remove Coohagen's basis of power (i.e. provision of air and protection). Quaid is used to get Benny, one of Coohagen's agents, close enough to Quato to kill him; but Quaid, who has knowledge of the alien machinery, escapes and intends to start it. This leads to a climax where Quaid activates the machine while fighting Coohagen; both men and Mileena end up on the Martian surface, but Coohagen suffocates and decompresses before the atmosphere is restored. With Mars saved, Quiad wonders that everything could still be a dream, so he kisses Mileena before he wakes up.
In the 2012 version, Coohagen wants to invade the Colony with an army of Synthetics, but Quaid has a code in his memory that could shut them all down; however, this "code" turns out to be a ruse to get Quaid near Matthias and expose his presence. Matthias is killed and Quaid and Melina are captured, but freed by a mole inside Cohaagen's organisation. They proceed to the Fall as it traverses the Earth, and rig it with explosions, while fighting Cohaagen and his forces. Quaid escapes the Fall before it detonates with Cohaagen aboard. He wakes up in an ambulance, greeted by Melina, but he quickly recognizes her as Lori in disguise, and finally kills her. He is found by the real Melina and they embrace, as the world celebrates the victory over Coohagen's tyranny. However, Quaid then sees a commercial for Rekall, again casting doubts over the fact that he may still be dreaming everything (a point confirmed in the Director's Cut, where Quaid discovers that a wound he received just before the memory implant at rekall is missing).