Nearly 20 Years Later, Shaft Returns At His Best

by Ben Martin

In 1971, Shaft kicked-off the Blaxploitation subgenre in earnest. This original flick didn’t excel in sex and violence as the proceeding pictures of its ilk would. However, this movie starring Richard Roundtree set the template for Blaxploitation films as a whole; in everything from pacing to tone. Alas, the Shaft franchise quickly fizzled-out after two sequels, Shaft’s Big Score (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973); as well as short-lived TV series (1973-1974) Thankfully, the subgenre of which Shaft is a part remained stable throughout the 70s. Nearly thirty years the baddest of all mothers, made his way into the 21st-century when Samuel L. Jackson took over the titular role in Shaft (2000). While this 2000 film was a definite hit, Blaxploitation had sadly lost steam.

Almost twenty years later, the movie industry is utterly obsessed with existing franchises and intellectual properties. While such a trend can sometimes lead to fatigue, it also tends to resurrect film series that we haven’t seen in a while. Shaft (2019) is the most recent example of such a revival. This sequel/soft-reboot focuses on John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) and his estranged son, JJ Shaft (Jesse T. Usher). Following the mysterious death of his best friend, JJ, comes to his dear old dad for help solving the homicide. But before this case is this father-and-son duo will also bring Shaft Sr. (Richard Roundtree) out of retirement!

Even if Blaxploitation isn’t necessarily your bag, this newest Shaft is a load of R-rated fun! Beyond that, the movie in review is the best Shaft yet. (Yes, I realize that opinion might be considered blasphemous considering the influential nature of the ‘71 original.) The entire cast here is phenomenal as they produce enough on-screen chemistry to run a lab. As is his style, Jackson is the king of cool, bouncing off the supporting cast with impeccable comic timing. In addition to the cast, this flick has plenty of visual style thanks to director Tim Story and cinematographer Larry Blanford (Fantastic 4: Rise of The Silver Surfer).

Alas, Shaft does fall victim to the same issues of its predecessors. The mystery which the movie revolves around is a  simple one. Not that the case at the movie’s core needs to be that intriguing as it’s merely a catalyst for entertainment. Still, such simplicity in a mystery does slow the pacing of the story at times. Other than those issues, my only nitpick with the movie in review is that it is the third movie entitled Shaft. Could we not have come up with a new title? Perhaps the originally proposed title, Son of Shaft?

Shaft might not be perfect, but it’s damn good. Furthermore, this flick is one of the best Blaxploitation pictures of the modern era. As such, I hate to see that the movie’s box office has been so weak. Audiences are depriving themselves of pure, subgenre fun. Thus,  I would highly recommend going to see this flick while you still can.

Shaft (2019) is In Theatres Now!

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