WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Shaft, in theaters now.
John Shaft has always been a bad dude, in the best sense of the word. He doesn't take no for an answer, he does what he pleases and he says what's on his mind. He never apologizes, and always views himself as the most badass person in the room. The new Shaft follows those traits, but tweaks them, and in the process shows how much of a jerk John is.
He's aggressively insulting, verbally attacking not only his son but also the gay community and pretty much all women. While the film never knows whether it wants to berate Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) for those views, it does make it clear the private detective is not a well-suited for the current cultural climate.
Shaft Is A Terrible Dad
Early in the film, it's established why Shaft couldn't be a part the life of his son, JJ (Jessie Usher). Following an assassination attempt on Shaft's family, his then-wife Maya (Regina King) takes away their young son to keep him safe. Refusing to give up his life protecting Harlem, Shaft left them to their own devices. His only interaction with his son was through gifts that arrived occasionally for JJ. Each of those presents was comically bad, ranging from porn magazines when he was a preteen to a box of condoms.
When JJ confronts his father later in life, Shaft is surprised that his son would harbor any resentment. He thinks he's a great example for his son. It doesn't help that Shaft is clearly in the middle of something sexual with a stripper just as JJ arrives. Shaft then attempts to "make up for lost time" by taking JJ clubbing on a Tuesday night and getting him incredibly drunk. He's not a strong role model, even when they're both adults.
Shaft Is Kind Of Homophobic
JJ, an FBI agent, recruits Shaft to help him investigate the death of his friend Karin. JJ reveals she had been working with a veterans group called Brothers Watching Brothers, which helps recently returned soldiers to readjust to civilian life. Shaft immediately assumes it's a homosexual group, and acts surprised, and kind of disgusted. He even guesses that JJ has been a part of the group, which would "explain a lot" about his son's attitude and the way presents himself.
Generally, the film relishes in attacking JJ's masculinity. A male secretary for Brothers Watching Brothers gives Shaft some flirty looks, which makes him uncomfortable. Because of his restraint and self-awareness, JJ is deemed as not nearly the the man his father is. Shaft brings up the possibility of his son having a "bi-curious roommate" as an indicator of how soft he is. Even other characters get involved, with JJ's FBI superior revealing that his daughter wants to be called Frank. It's played off as a joke, but it doesn't land as one.
Shaft Is Misogynistic
One of the strangest places the film goes is in exploring Shaft's relationship with women. Shaft has historically not been a kind franchise to women; displaying a casual disrespect for them is part of the character's DNA. It comes with being from a specific time and place in popular culture. But Shaft shows just how far it goes. After a scene in which JJ's attempts to keep his father from hitting a woman are met with a punch in the face, the pair returns to Shaft's car. Shaft lectures JJ on how to treat women, and how they secretly want a man to control them and their lives.
It's a weirdly misogynistic beat, and one the film recognizes as such. JJ explains how apologizing and acting like a human being is the appropriate thing to do with women. And when Shaft tries that approach with Maya, he comes closer than he has in years to making things up to her. But then he ruins it by immediately by asking for sex, and gets a door slammed in his face. It's treated as a punchline, and not as the tragic last attempt at empathy by a man who long since gave up on that. Shaft may be good with a gun and full of swag, but he's also just a massive tool throughout the entire film. At least Sasha (Alexandra Shipp) calls him out on it.
Directed by Tim Story, Shaft stars Jessie Usher, Samuel L. Jackson, Richard Roundtree, Alexandra Shipp, Matt Lauria, Regina Hall, Titus Welliver and Method Man.