The third film in the universe of this blaxploitation classic, Shaft is easily one of the most fun and enjoyable movies I’ve seen this year. A perfect mix of modern references clashing with the old head machismo of both Samuel L. Jackson’s (Captain Marvel, Glass) and Richard Roundtree’s (What Men Want, Being Mary Jane) iteration of the character. This one follows Jackson’s John Shaft’s son, John “JJ” Shaft Jr, played by Jessie Usher (Independence Day: Resurgence, Almost Christmas) who works as a data analyst for the FBI and discovers a mystery that only his father can help him figure out. While not for the faint of heart, as there are plenty of really terrible and problematic things that come out of Jackson’s character, it is nevertheless a fun ride.
Shaft is a love letter to the blaxploitation genre, from the music, the dialogue, and the situations the characters find themselves in, it’s as if this movie was written forty years ago. Drugs, sexy women, overwhelming violence, and spitfire quips, this film is everything you want if you love that genre of film. Moreover, it loves New York City, Harlem even more so, and recognizes that the New York of the original films is not at all that of the modern day, both for good and ill.
What’s more, it doesn’t just have Shaft say messed up things with impunity but strives to have him reckon the more problematic aspects of his personality and worldviews. Having chosen his work over his family once before, Shaft learns to realize that getting his man wasn’t worth missing out on twenty-five years of his son’s life or losing the woman he loves. Some of his views soften, and he learns to understand that his way isn’t the only way to get things done.
At the same time, JJ learns how to harden himself, to become more like his father and grandfather and be more ‘manly’. He defeats his villain, solves the mystery, and in the end, as such movies demand, get the girl. The ladies of this film are amazingly cast. Regina Hill (Little, The Hate U Give) plays JJ’s mother and Shaft’s ex Maya, who doesn’t want her son caught up in his father’s nonsense, and Alexandra Shipp (X-Men: Apocalypse, Love, Simon) plays the doctor, childhood friend, and crush Sasha, while is a badass in her own right, falls into the role of damsel in distress.
Special mention has to be made for the iconic Richard Roundtree, who originated the role. He isn’t in much of the film, only coming in at the end for the final sequence, he still steals the show. It’s amazing when we get to watch actors such has Roundtree reprise roles that made their careers, especially when it’s clear that they love them. You can see how much both Roundtree and Jackson loved being Shaft in the past, and how much all three love being Shaft now.
While this film won’t have as much appeal or be as enjoyable for those who either don’t know or don’t like blaxploitation films, it is still a fast-paced summer action movie and holds its own against more modern movies in that field, such as John Wick. But to get the full experience out of Shaft, at the very least if you haven’t already, go back and watch the original Shaft from 1971 and Jackson’s first iteration as the character from 2000. With those films in mind, you’ll catch all the references both to the film’s own canon as well as the common tropes of blaxploitation action films in general. I can’t suggest watching this film any more highly.
Shaft (2019) is open wide in theatres everywhere.
David Castro is a Puerto Rican writer from New York City. He has worked on the upcoming Undead supplement for Chill Third Edition and is working on launching a Patreon. You can find him on Twitter (@theinkedknight), on Tumblr (thedevilsyouknew), on Facebook (facebook.com/inkstainedstudios), and at davidrcastro.com.