It’s pretty safe to assume that remakes get a bad reputation in Hollywood. As a result, most critics have decried Brick Mansions as an inferior remake to the original French film, District B13. Having seen both films, I thought I’d take the time to compare each film’s elements together to see which one is better (at least in my book).
I’m going to be honest; the opening of Brick Mansions does a much better job on giving exposition than the original. In the original, a simple paragraph explains that a section of Paris was blocked off and quarantined from the rest of the world. In the remake, several news reports are shown describing how the crime rate of the city (Detroit in this film) is out of control, giving a nice setup for the setting of the film. Something else I’ve noticed is that the police officer’s character (played by Cyril Raffaelli in the original and Paul Walker in the remake) is given more background in the remake, and it gives the audience more time to care about his character. He is also given more time to spend with the main character (played by David Belle in both versions). Belle even seemed to have better on-screen chemistry with Walker than with Raffaelli. This isn’t to say these elements weren’t good in the original, but I found them to be stronger in the remake.
On the other hand, I found the ending of the original to be far superior to the remake’s ending. In the original, the mob boss is gunned down by his own crew after they realize he is violent and greedy. It makes sense because he kills them off whenever he feels like it, and so they kill him when they get the chance. The crew then helps the main characters reach the bomb that was placed by the mayor and expose his plot to destroy the slums in an attempt to lower crime rates. It’s a nice, clean ending that wraps up the film nicely.
In the remake, the mob boss (played by RZA) is still violent and greedy, but his gang never betrays him, and he in fact helps the main characters at the end. At one point in the ending, he actually hits the switch to send the bomb off downtown before it is shot out by Walker’s character. Soon after, he tries to detonate it again but has a change of heart when he realizes that he doesn’t want to kill millions of people downtown. This makes no sense whatsoever; he hit the switch before but suddenly he won’t do it? What’s worse is that he actually gets away scot-free with killing his own crew members and attempting to set a bomb off downtown. He even runs for mayor after the original mayor is exposed. Would you elect someone that hit a button to kill millions of people?
Overall, both films have their strengths in the story department. The remake’s story is stronger in the first half while the original has a more satisfying conclusion. I’d say they are both evenly matched.
Regarding the set pieces, both films have thrilling, exciting fight and chase scenes with parkour and martial arts galore. The remake’s fight scenes are longer than the original’s, and I give a lot of credit for expanding upon the original rather than a simple shot-for-shot remake. Scenes like the break-in to the district and the handcuff/steering wheel scene are significantly improved from the original. This is the kind of thing we should see more of in remakes. A lot of people have complained that the PG-13 rating waters down the action of the R-rated original. However with the exception of a few bloody gunshot wounds, I didn’t feel like the new version was that much tamer than the original.
To be fair though, the editing in the remake isn’t quite as smooth as in the original, and the original also had superior cinematography. There were also some fight scenes in the remake that were a step down from the original. The original’s casino fight scene is replaced by a less thrilling car chase and the final fight between the two main characters is more visually appealing than the remake’s. Again, each film has its strengths and weaknesses, and both are evenly matched.
One thing that was much better in the original was the soundtrack. The electronic style music fit much more with the fast-paced action than the rap/orchestral soundtrack of the remake. Moreover, the original’s color palate had much more variety than the remake’s.
So is the remake as inferior to the original as critics are saying? I don’t think so. I mean, it has its flaws, but compared to most Hollywood remakes, I thought the filmmakers did a fine job. I can certainly see why fans of the original may find the remake inferior, but I feel that credit should be given where its due. Both Brick Mansions and District B13 are absolute thrill rides, and I wouldn’t pass up either if you’re a fan of unique fight scenes and parkour.