We have been in the grips of a reboot frenzy recently, with everything beloved, forgotten, new and old getting a second, third, or fourth chance at entertaining the public. Even if previous attempts didn’t yield the results the franchise holders wanted. In 2019, Netflix dusted the leather jackets of the iconic crime-fighter as three generations adopt the moniker of Shaft. Delivering to us not just a sword for justice, but a magnifying glass for the society of then and the society of now.
When dangers of fighting crime stalk Shaft Jr. around every corner, it becomes too much for Shaft’s partner. She takes their child John Shaft Jr. (or J.J.) and raises him with seldom input from Shaft. Shaft’s son now all grown up is working for F.B.I. as a data analyst. When his friend ends up dead, and the FBI not willing to touch the case, he must rely on the input and classic crime-solving skills of Shaft Jr. and other members of the Shaft family willing to help.
This reboot is also a continuation of the first film, although you can skip it and still understand what’s going on here. The film shows clips from the first film in a clever montage early on. It also retcons Shaft into being the son of Shaft as opposed to his nephew, Why? I have no idea, but it gives the film a nice sense of repetition, as the Shaft name and resentment for the confines of conventional law enforcement.
The underlying root of the film’s comedy, like in many reboots of classic properties, is to compare the times of the original property to the times of today. Shaft Jr. has some gripes about his son and his son’s generation and vice versa. A lot of jokes about millennials and stuff being done on computers/smartphones, a tee-total health-conscious attitude vs a party and drink all night one, etc. The two are a strong duo and Usher here feels more than comfortable in the leading role. Both him and Jackson make a compelling comedy and crime-fighting team.
We are now two generations removed from Shaft and the iconic magic that made him famous. Yet Shaft (2019) shows we can critique and build upon what made Shaft so great. Shaft will continue as long as there are people willing to dawn leather jackets and take justice to the streets. But while some of the sensibilities may change, the structure still holds strong. With its good cast, good writing, and good observations of society, Shaft will also continue to be thoroughly entertaining.
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