Samuel L. Jackson returns to the iconic role of Shaft for a new movie, but the critic reviews have not been great. The 1971 film Shaft, directed by Gordon Parks and starring Richard Roundtree, is one of the great icons of black cinema and arguably the most popular blaxploitation movie ever made. The film was considered ground-breaking in its time and made enough money on its release to help save the then-struggling MGM, which was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Two sequels quickly followed, as well as a series of TV movies, and that iconic Isaac Hayes theme song took home an Oscar. In 2000, the late John Singleton revived the series with Samuel L. Jackson in the lead as the nephew of the original John Shaft, but while it made back double its budget and received encouraging reviews, it's taken until now for that movie to get its own sequel. Directed by Tim Story and with a script co-written by Black-ish creator Kenya Barris, the 2019 Shaft reunites Roundtree and Jackson as two generations of Shafts. They're then joined by J.J. Shaft Jr. (Jessie Usher), an FBI agent who has rejected his father's way of life but needs his help in tracking down the murderer of his best friend.
So far, Shaft reviews have been largely negative, with many criticizing the film’s dated humor (a lot of which is sexist, homophobic, and transphobic) and its cheap millennial bashing, which makes the effortlessly cool character of Shaft seem depressingly out-of-touch. Given how pioneering the original Shaft was in terms of subverting Hollywood’s racist expectations about black masculinity and leading men, most critics seem disappointed that the new film is more interested in cheap shots at easy targets. The movie currently has a 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and here’s a snapshot of what critics are saying about 2019's Shaft.
"In a time when pop genre movies are increasingly willing to tackle timely issues like police brutality and bureaucratic corruption, one would expect a modern Shaft sequel to feel like a natural reflection of the zeitgeist. Instead, this new film loses track of what made the franchise culturally significant to begin with, in favor of being a middling action-comedy that's more invested in complaining about kids these days than systematic oppression in the larger world."
"In Ride Along director Tim Story’s wildly misjudged follow-up, we’re given a Jordan Petersen-level assault on so-called beta millennial males, a strange, angry attack on modernity that feels like the result of a group of bitter men griping about the metrosexualisation of a younger generation."
"While Shaft was once billed as a complicated man, there's nary a beat that can't be pretty easily anticipated, which is vaguely reassuring under the guise of a '70s detective show but not terribly engaging as a movie. The notion of Shaft as an anachronism also loses its cool quickly, bordering on wince-inducing as the character keeps not only cracking skulls but being casually homophobic and insisting on describing women by particular body parts."
"[Tim] Story can’t hide his disdain for the Me Generation and their rule-abiding, women-respecting ways, and Usher gets to shoulder all that in strings of tiresome jokes, mostly from his father, that poke fun at his effeminacy and his inability to ask out his long childhood crush (Alexandra Shipp, whose only direction apparently was “look pretty and act feisty”)."
"His [Jackson] un-PC gumshoe can’t stop going off on screeds about millennials, tight pants, coconut water, and the good old days when men didn’t need permission for anything. If Singleton’s Shaft was partly the product of post-Tarantino nostalgia for the badassery of blaxploitation, Story’s seems to pine for the ’80s and ’90s heyday of action heroes who could blow away stereotypical bad guys, drop a one-liner, and get laid without anyone asking too many questions."
"How jokes this offensive can make it to the screen in 2019 is beyond comprehension and a bit of a shame, considering that this has so much else going for it including a delightful late-game appearance by the original Shaft, Richard Roundtree, who looks fantastic, by the way. There is potential commentary to be made about the generational gap that doesn’t require dredging up the most deplorable intolerances. So what on earth were these bad mother------- thinking?"
"It’s mix-and-match thriller MacGuffin clichés, but the movie barely pretends to be interested in this generic crime plot. It’s more intent on milking the name of the support group (Brothers Watching Brothers) for a running joke that flirts with homophobic paranoia, and with giving Jackson the ultimate rude and crude way to explain things like how Shaft owns a personal computer."
"Sure, seeing John Shaft Sr. (Richard Roundtree) kick butt again in the climax adds a splash of fun. But even he deserves a better vehicle. In addition to its ribald sense of humor, clumsy exposition and predictable sight gags (like the comedic reveals when characters aren’t alone when expected) threaten to drag everything down further. It’s abundantly clear that the only ones getting the shaft are the audience."
Some critics, however, are happy to enjoy the film on its own terms as a more buddy comedy styled approach to the material. What stands out amid even the harshest reviews are strong write-ups for Samuel L. Jackson. The ever popular actor has lost none of his coolness in the interim 19 years since he last played the part, and seeing him chew up the screen in an iconic role has earned him more than his fair share of positive reviews.
“Billions of dollars of hits later, Jackson, now Hollywood's top-dog elder statesman, plays Shaft like he's just messing with us, having a blast without giving a rip, doing his standard, ever-fun Sam Jackson routine, on top of the world [...] Shaft 2019 is silly entertainment, light and savory as cineplex popcorn."
"Despite its sometimes questionable jokes, provocative cultural trolling and a shaky plot, “Shaft” isn’t either a full-on misfire nor blaxploitation rejuvenation. Instead, “Shaft” is a decent, if slightly tepid, action comedy anchored by a hilarious performance by Samuel L. Jackson."
"Still, how strenuously can one complain when in the presence of Jackson reciting lines like, “It's your duty to please that booty” and “I know way more about this city than all this GPS shit.” To listen to the actor doing street talk is akin to reveling in Olivier reciting Shakespeare — in other words, it's one of the great pleasures of the language. Edit the film down to his dialogue and you have a wonderful greatest hits collection."
"Despite lapses in the script, there is a palpable chemistry between Usher and Jackson, and the humor that sparks between the two is what carries the film through its fairly predictable paces."
What did you think of the newest Shaft movie? Did the reviews influence your choice to see it (or not)? Did you agree with the critical consensus? Let us know in the comments.