Son of the Son of Shaft

If possible, look past the drug investigation plot of Shaft. It’s a menagerie of cliches, routine, and derivative non-surprises.

Underneath that though comes a generational head-butting between millennials and baby boomers, both played up for their extremes. There’s young Shaft (Jessie T. Usher), the skinny jean wearing, coconut water drinking, computer geek – every bit a caricature. Then dad Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson), a homophobic, womanizing, and violent man who is out of place in 2019 but doesn’t know it.

In that buddy (or rather father/son) paring is a story about absentee fathers, regret, race, and masculinity. Abrasive and vulgar, absolutely, if dressed with enough social context to give this Shaft sequel a credibility boost. Without that, Shaft puts Jackson in a place to shoot lots of people and drop f-bombs, leading to an eventual reuniting with old Shaft (Richard Roundtree) to pull on nostalgic feelings.

Shaft brings a deft touch of self-awareness, enough to soften some rough edges

Shaft doesn’t end on a positive message. By the end, Usher’s timid hacker joins dad (and granddad) to take out drug pushers, escalated from emasculated keyboard warrior to gun-firing professional, all to save the damsel. If anything, Usher is pulled awkwardly down, and Shaft wants those old ways of “being a manly man” to remain. Multiple restaurant shoot-outs feel uncomfortable though, viewed through the modern American lens, with innocents hiding and screaming patrons running. That’s the kind of violence Shaft perpetuates for cool factor, but instead, only draws attention to why Shaft’s wild west tactics falter.

The New York of this Shaft doesn’t often look different than the drug dens of old. It’s brighter than the messy ‘70s film stocks allowed, but the buildings and their rundown aesthetic captures the same disrepair. Jackson reminisces about the ‘80s street wars, and visits a dire apartment complex that looks untouched since a previous Shaft rampage. In that, he’s keeping his ways alive, using intimidation and violence to keep poverty-stricken areas in fear.

That said, seeing Roundtree in action again delights – even if it’s only a third act extended cameo. He’s great. And at moments, Shaft brings a deft touch of self-awareness, enough to soften some rough edges and ease the routine narrative. If there is a future series in the making, Usher is inspired casting because his awkward way can sustain humor.

Video

Only a Blu-ray for this outing from Warner; no 4K disc release. That noted, the output delivers grand clarity, with only minor noise in spots. Digital cinematography brings brilliant detail to Shaft including gobs of facial texture. New York looks stellar (an exception for a few lower res stock shots aside) in various aerials. Street level, brick textures and concrete stick out to preserve Shaft’s look.

Generally warm color makes for an attractive and bold palette. Primaries shine. Saturation sustains for the full runtime too. It’s unusually inviting for something so brutal.

If there is a winning attribute, that’s contrast. Between marvelous black levels and heavy lighting, the mix brings with it substantial depth. Shaft pushes light even in interiors, always bold. Great looking material, which Warner keeps intact.

Audio

Punchy shotguns hit with force in this Atmos mix. Like with the R&B and rap soundtrack, the low-end gets a workout during action. Gunfire’s hefty (if not top-end) LFE force enhances the bigger weapons, and a smaller pop comes from handguns. Variety is appreciated.

Ambiance in New York and in a club runs high. Shaft keeps up the sonic energy even away from its action. When firefights erupt, so does this mix. Shots ping in each channel, occasional height use placing rounds directly over the action. Falling debris washes over the entire positional soundstage too, creating an all-encompassing mix.

Extras

A generic 10-minute making of and deleted scenes don’t make an impression. A gag reel carries a few blunders worth seeing. The meat of the disc is A Complicated Man, spit into three parts. Running 44-minutes total, this details the entire franchise and what it meant to those who grew up during Shaft’s golden era, plus the method of the newer entries.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Shaft
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Jessie T. Usher brings in a new generation of Shaft, creating a fun culture clash amid a routine drug trade action flick.

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