By Jose Mujica
June 14, 2018
Director X’s remake of Superfly holds nothing back in it’s visually indulgent and viscerally hedonistic reimagining of the classic blaxploitation film. In the midst of a scourge of underwhelming Hollywood reboots, Superfly looks to set itself apart as an positive outlier within the trend of movie modernizations. The sharp and vibrant cinematography of the film captures one’s eye in it’s kaleidoscope of color and contrast. The larger-than-life narrative of chic hustler, Youngblood Priest, and his affiliates in present-day trap capital, Atlanta, brings to life a culture that’s both familiar but also underrepresented in film. All this alongside the exaggeratedly extravagant stylings of the characters, in both their aesthetics and personality, makes for an engaging and satisfying movie experience.
We begin by witnessing the luxurious lifestyle of Youngblood Priest (Trevor Jackson), a mid-level drug dealer in modern-day Atlanta. Director X’s prolific experience in orchestrating music videos is evident in the opening scenes which showcase the glamorous stripper-laden, drug-fueled money showers that are simple routine working days for our main character, Priest. Ever comfortable within the rapper lifestyle he leads, the movie acknowledges its use of stereotypical trap tropes when Priest presses a few rappers for money owed and calls them out, reminding them that they’re rappers, not gangsters like him. The Future produced soundtrack blares his signature southern slurred vocals over booming bass while depictions of a splendorous life of sex, drugs, violence and respect flash across the screen. Many of the shots and transitions seem precisely what one would see in the rapper’s music videos and are visually appealing enough to easily hold one’s attention captive even during seemingly slow or silent moments during the film. X enjoys flipping the recent trends of heavily-produced, increasingly cinematic music videos by creating this two-hour-long narrative.
Plot-wise, the writers shrewdly chose to not hold themselves beholden to the source material. In his recent Desus & Mero interview, Director X explains how they broke down the original story to it’s barebone narrative: the story of a hustler who wants to make a million dollars and get out the game. Filling in the rest with the flamboyant, street-centered style of modern Atlanta allows the film to feel like a true contemporary gangster flick. We follow Priest as he decides upon an early retirement from the criminal life and begins to calculate how best to accomplish that. What follows is a roller coaster ride of suspense, betrayals, twists, high-speed car chases and the steamiest threesome sex scene that’s made it past the censors in recent memory. From juggling his polyamorous relationship with both girlfriends, his business plans with partner Eddie (Jason Mitchell), a war with a rival gang, and dealing with pressure from Mexican cartels, old mentors, law enforcement, the dark underbelly of Priest’s glamorous lifestyle is revealed as his dream for a tranquil and peaceful escape seems to grow elusive. The unraveling towards the end as all the pieces begin to fall into place is reminiscent of classic crime movies such as Goodfellas.
Any fan of action or gangster movies is sure to get their money’s worth with this film, but it’s unlikely to win any Oscars. In classic blaxploitation style, Superfly doesn’t take itself too seriously or aim for an ambitiously profound experience, appealing more to the sensational than the intellectual. The characters often seem more like hyperbolic caricatures than anything that resembles real life. The ever-calm, unphased and undeniably cool Priest, his hot-headed right hand man, his grisled wise mentor, played by the incomparable Michael K. Williams, etc. While the characters all play their part, many seem to be simply one-dimensional, useful for fulfilling their role in the grand narrative and little else. Of course, on trend with the genre in general and recent socio-political tensions, all the white characters wear badges and are portrayed as unabashed villains, lurking on the sidelines licking their chops at the chance to sink their teeth into Priest. The culmination leads to the most brutally cathartic scene that satiates an urge for justice that often goes unheard in real life. Superfly knows how to give it’s audience what they want.
Almost a decade into the age of trap dominance within hip-hop music and it shows no signs of relinquishing its position. Atlanta, whose style, sound, fashion and artists have made such an impact in the world of music within the last decade, and we finally see the subculture come to life on the big screen with Superfly.
Star Rating: 4 out of 5