I did something I never do. I watched a franchise film out of sequence. The Shaft series has been going on for decades, and this 2019 addition almost serves as a testimony to the collection of films in the series before it. In fact, this is the third film in the entire collection with the same title, which in a way, means it’s been reborn for a third and probably final time. So, why watch this and not the others? Honestly, because this is the only film to actually garner any attention from me. It seemed to be gutsy in a genre-switch and obviously more modern, in general. So, is this film enough to gain interest to seeing the others? Let’s find out.
JJ, aka John Shaft Jr. (Usher), may be a cyber security expert with a degree from MIT, but to uncover the truth behind his best friend’s untimely death, he needs an education only his dad can provide. Absent throughout JJ’s youth, the legendary locked-and-loaded John Shaft (Jackson) agrees to help his progeny navigate Harlem’s heroin-infested underbelly. And while JJ’s own FBI analyst’s badge may clash with his dad’s trademark leather coat, there’s no denying family. Besides, Shaft’s got an agenda of his own, and a score to settle that’s professional and personal.IMDb
So, how is it watching this film without watching the others? Am I utterly confused, or does it work well as a standalone film? I was never once confused as to what was going on. There were times where I was sure there were shout outs to previous installments, but they were presented in ways that flowed nicely with the rest of the movie. The only thing that left me slightly bewildered was how the character of Shaft was really THAT iconic, deserving multiple films. He’s essentially a slightly exaggerated version of, well, Samuel L. Jackson. As a Marvel fan, all I could keep thinking was that this was just a really vulgar version of Nick Fury.
The story itself had to do with finding clues, investigating witnesses, and following the trail, which is totally fine. I never really saw it as a brilliant web of ideas that were interconnected, which is how I’ve felt in the past for films like it. As it was, it did make sense, even if it was a slightly safe plot progression.
Which brings me to the tone and balance of the film, which is actually very well done. I can only imagine how the other films played out, but I think the inclusion of comedy did this film franchise justice in the same way Thor: Ragnarok revitalized the Thor franchise. I know, another Marvel reference. I can’t help it, there’s a lot of them out there nowadays! There are probably those of you that are fans of this series and don’t understand the change in tone, but it worked and really allowed Samuel L. Jackson to be set loose and just let his insanity fly.
One of the main complaints I’ve heard people give this film comes down to being politically incorrect. First of all, that’s one area of ideals that I don’t personally understand. I just want a movie to be made well and communicate a message they wanted to communicate. That’s it. If it’s politically incorrect, then so be it…but I don’t think it’s that politically incorrect or offensive. I think they knew exactly what they were doing whenever it came to those delicate subjects, and by telling the audience exactly who these characters are, it would kind of be confusing if they WEREN’T offensive with those things. It makes sense for the film’s voice.
When it comes down to technical things, I was impressed specifically with the way the film was edited, as well as the musical score used in the film which really, really helped solidify the tone the movie was going for. The camerawork was always typical, and the visuals were always on the cusp of impressing me, but just never quite got to that point.
Overall, I was genuinely surprised with this movie. I thought it wasn’t going to strike with me in any way, that I wasn’t a part of the target audience, and that I’d probably turn it off and skip a review…but I found myself pretty entertained. I was engaged, I was laughing, I was having a decent time with it. I probably won’t go back to the original films because I don’t think the same tone is in those films. Maybe one day… As it is, I thought it was pretty good.
TOTAL SCORE – 75%
Current 2019 Rankings:
Overall: 12th Place
(6-Way Tie with Captain Marvel, Escape Room, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Play or Die, and Us)
Comedy: 5th Place out of 20 movies
Action: 6th Place (3-Way Tie with Captain Marvel and Escape Room)
Crime: 1st Place (2-Way tie with Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile)
PEOPLE SCORE (16/20)
Acting (2/4) | Characters (3/4) | Casting (4/4) | Importance (3/4) | Chemistry (4/4)
WRITING SCORE (6/10)
Dialogue (2/2) | Balance (2/2) | Story Depth (0/2) | Originality (0/2) | Concept (2/2)
BEHIND-THE-SCENES SCORE (8/10)
Visuals (1/2) | Cinematography (1/2) | Editing (2/2) | Advertising (2/2) | Music & Sound (2/2)
NARRATIVE ARC SCORE (10/10)
Introduction (2/2) | Inciting Incident (2/2) | Obstacles (2/2) | Climax (2/2) | Falling Action (2/2)
ENTERTAINMENT SCORE (5/10)
Rewatchability (1/2) | Fun Experience (2/2) | Impulse to Buy or Own (0/2) | Impulse to Talk About or Recommend (0/2) | Engaging & Riveting (2/2)
SPECIALTY SCORE (30/40)
Shaft Character (5/10) | Sequels, Prequels, and Spinoffs (10/10) | Action (5/10) | Halfway Decent (10/10)