Following on from the success of previous hip-hop biopics "Notorious" and "Straight Outta Compton", this film tells the story of Tupac Shakur, arguably one of the greatest rappers who ever lived. Beginning with his difficult upbringing by his mother, a former Black Panther, in a single parent household with his younger sister, the film covers a huge amount of ground. We see Tupac enrolled in an acting school in Baltimore, moving to California, joining Digital Underground, all the way through his troubles with the law, superstardom, signing with Death Row Records and his tragic death at the age of 25.
The film is two and a half hours long and feels a little stretched at times. Rather than getting to grips with the complex figure of Tupac, it plays more like a dramatization of various real life events, rushing to get through various important figures and moments that fans will know about. This is an odd choice, since almost everything here will be familiar to fans of Tupac, while they move by so quickly non-fans would still be confused as to who certain individuals are or their significance. One example of this is Dr. Dre whose brief appearance points to the film-makers essentially making this for people who already know the story but want to see it on the big screen. A film like "Straight Outta Compton" did a much better job of creating an enjoyable drama while including all the elements of the true story. The two main women in Tupac's life, his mother Afenia and lifelong friend Jada, are given scenes of emotional resonance, but it feels as though the film takes its eye off the ball when it comes to following through on ideas. Perhaps the film-makers were not bold enough to put words into the great man's mouth, preferring to show his performances and stick to things they know were true. There are some fantastic performances here. Demetrius Shipp Jr. gives an eerily alike performance of Tupac, Danai Gurira is good as Afenia as is Kat Graham as Jada, and Jamal Woolard reprises his role as Biggie from the "Notorious" movie.
The film is by no means bad. Fans of Tupac will really enjoy seeing this life played out on screen. The performances are good. The editing and direction are solid. The main problem is that it feels more like reading a news report than watching a drama. There is no meat put on the bare bones of the story. We end a lengthy film knowing little more than we did at the beginning about Tupac's real philosophy or motivations. People have also criticized it as being hagiographic. At the end Tupac has become and almost Christ-like figure, lying martyred on the city streets. He witnesses abuses at Death Row and does nothing. This should have made for a conflicted character, but the film shies away from suggesting what his thought may or may not have been at pivotal moments. I would definitely recommend this for fans of Tupac. The length may deter others from watching it, but despite the criticisms it is a solid film about a hugely influential and interesting figure.