Joe (Josh Brolin) is a not-very-nice man who is one day, without warning or reason, imprisoned in a hellish hotel room and left there for 20 years. While inside, he finds out that his wife was murdered and he is the prime suspect, leaving his very young daughter to be adopted by strangers. Suddenly, he is released back into the world, and given less than 4 days to find out who imprisoned him and why, or the information will be kept from him forever.
There are going to be two types of people going to see this movie: (1) the fans of the 2003 cult South Korean hit who may or may not have already made up their minds that this is going to be a disappointment, and (2) those who had no idea that this is a Hollywood remake, and are going to be shocked by just how dark this story gets. Either way, let's get the obvious out of way by asking if this remake was necessary. Absolutely not, and to both types of audience, we still recommend you go back and watch the original (again).
Originally rumoured to be directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Will Smith, and reported to be a much more faithful take on the source comic, this remake tellingly lets us know where its influences come from by the opening credit "Based on the movie Oldboy". Director Spike Lee, returning to his first major release since 2006's Inside Man, brings all the requisite violence and visual panache, but has extracted a lot of the vengeful glee that made the original so fun.
Brolin grunts his way through the lead role, being merely acceptable but bringing none of the fragile fury that Min-sik Choi had in the original, and the less said about Sharlto Copley's Bond-villain caricature, the better. However, Elizabeth Olsen is fantastic as Joe's guardian angel, not given a lot to do but doing a lot with it, and Samuel L Jackson as the hotel manager is a lot of fun.
All in all, your enjoyment of this remake depends on whether or not you can push the original out of your mind. It's violent, but not AS violent, twisted, but not AS twisted. A lot of the rougher edges have been smoothed down, and the opportunity to do something different with the material has been wasted.
Judged on its own merits, it's passable. Judged as a remake, it's a major disappointment.