Director X (director)
116 mins (length)
14 September 2018 (released)
Trevor Jackson, the lead of this year’s remake of 1972 blaxploitation film Super Fly, plays a character with just about the coolest name of all time. Youngblood Priest is a drug dealer; he is smart, he is stylish as anything, and he knows what he’s doing. But he wants out of the drug game, and he’s planning to increase his supply just long enough that he can make enough money to get out, taking his two girlfriends (they have a somehow perfect three way relationship) with him. With this ambition comes unwanted conflict: from Priest’s Mexican suppliers, from his mentor Scatter, and most of all from the ridiculously garbed rival street gang Snow Patrol.
Director X’s vision for this film won’t fail to make you smile. Taking a leaf out of Scorsese’s book to deliver an overwhelming sense of opulence to a crime fuelled setting, X pays tribute to everything from noughties rap music videos to Black Panther. With a killer soundtrack by Future, there’s great enjoyment to be had from just sitting back and letting the film revel in it’s silliness and clichés. Sit up for a second, though, and the flaws are clear. Behind the magnificent style is a thin plot packed with one dimensional characters. X’s camera manipulation is by the book, and a cynic wouldn’t struggle to write off the entire film as one long advert for Lexus cars and Sony phones. Plus, it’s difficult in 2018 to overlook the misogyny ingrained in this world, typified by scenes involving almost fully naked girls dancing in strip clubs, girlfriends catfighting, and an overly gratuitous shower threesome.
Most of the cast is pretty generic in the roles they are given, although the limited screen time afforded to both Jennifer Morrison and Michael Kenneth Williams is a treat. Then there’s Jason Mitchell, a talent who really deserves more challenging roles in better films. For the most part, however, the film is unsurprising. Plot points can be seen from a mile off, and as such never build intrigue. But that’s ok - a few decently crafted set pieces add to the fun of it all, and the important thing to remember is that the film never takes itself too seriously. It’s just difficult not to be alienated when the script insists on a reference to Priest’s ‘perfect’ hairstyle every five minutes.
There is a scene in Spike Lee’s BlacKKKlansman where two characters discuss the representation of black leading roles on screen in the 70s, in films such as Coffy, Shaft and the original Super Fly. The debate comes down to whether the positive of finally having a black actor in a mainstream leading role, representing black values, outweighs the fact that their attributes are being exploited in what may be considered a stereotyping, and racist, portrayal of black people. Almost 50 years on, this remake comes at a time when it isn’t forced to make the same mistakes as its predecessor. Yes, the majority of the actors are black, and the white police are the bad guys, but importantly, no one is being exploited for their race – they are proud of it. Superfly feels important in that sense, so it is a shame it does not deliver script-wise. And race might not be an issue for this crime actioner, but clearly positive gender representation has a long way to go in this genre.