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Review: ‘Superfly’ (2018)

In 1972, director Gordon Parks Jr. and actor Ron O’Neal unleashed the incomparable Youngblood Priest on the world in the Blaxploitation classic, Super Fly. Two more films about Priest followed in 1973 and 1990, with O’Neal and Nathan Purdee in the part, respectively. Now in 2018, Trevor Jackson (Burning Sands) has taken on the mantle in a new iteration of Superfly and is sticking it to a whole new generation of The Man.

Once again, we are taken into a criminal underworld where Priest rules his drug trade with an iron (but still compassionate) fist. As you can expect, he wants to get out of the game and needs one last big score to do so. You know the drill. Priest will get his shot at a crime-free existence, but it will come at a price. Part of which will be paid in the blood of those he cares about.

What sets this flashy, Atlanta-set redo apart from other similarly-plotted slices o’ crime cinema isn’t such much the execution of such tropes, but the directorial style and the performances. In terms of the former, there’s not a bad turn that I can recall. Everyone performs admirably, with the likes of Jackson, Mitchell, Davis, and Londo standing out in particular. That they are backed by the always-capable character actor hands of Williams, Morrison, Morales, and Durkin only enriches things.

As for the direction, music video maven Director X shoots the entire thing like a never-ending gangsta rap video. While that aesthetic isn’t a particular favorite of mine, it certainly suits this film and it is incorporated in a variety of interesting ways. Setting aside club-based shenanigans and wild costumes (the rival gang is dressed in all white…guns included), the action itself is balletic and filmed at enough of a distance that one can always get a bead on a sequence’s geography. Basic action filmmmaking rules, I know, but ones that are often forgotten these days. There’s the occasional wonky shot here and there, but overall, Mr. X is on point.

If anything, it’s those aforementioned tropes that hold it back. The plot is just a bit too predictable for the film to stand out on a narrative level. I get why they wanted to keep things simple, given its classic throwback structure, but a few more changes would have spiced things up a bit. As it stands, no new ground is broken in terms of storytelling. Still, it’s a well-told tale and I cannot fault it for that.

In an era where white supremacists have risen to power once more, it’s wonderful to see iconic African-American characters like Luke Cage, Black Panther, Youngblood Priest, Cleopatra Jones, Christie Love, and John Shaft either returning to the screen or finally making the jump for the first time. While this new iteration of Superfly isn’t a runaway success, it is nonetheless an entertaining take on a classic piece of Blaxploitation cinema. Here’s hoping that the other aforementioned reboots that are on the way are just as good, if not even better.

Superfly is a remake of 1972 film by the same name. It was helmed by Director X, from a screenplay by Alex Tse. The film was produced by Joel Silver, Future, and Palak Patel. It stars Trevor Jackson, Kalaan “KR” Walker, Jason Mitchell, Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Morrison, Lex Scott Davis, Esai Morales, Andrea Londo, Big Bank Black, Jacob Ming-Trent, Brian F. Durkin, and Rick Ross.

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