Review: “Space Jam: A New Legacy”

Growing up in the 90s “Space Jam” was a classic. Originally based on a pair of Nike ads featuring Michael Jordan alongside Bugs Bunny, “Space Jam” has long been a source of nostalgia and a well-known but harmless product of its time…well harmless until 2021 when we get the “long awaited” sequel starring the man who is consistently trying to prove to the world how great he is compared to Jordan, LeBron James. “Space Jam: A New Legacy” hit theaters and HBO Max this weekend and is one of those movies I went in prepared to hate but I tried to remain cautiously optimistic that my enjoyment of the original as a guilty pleasure might help me find some respect for this new iteration. I was, of course, wrong and what we get instead of a worthy revitalization of a concept that really didn’t need to be revisited is by far one of the most painful movies I’ve had to sit through in my four-plus years of operating this blog. A fascinating blend of ego, IP-driven nostalgia baiting and style or substance, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is a prime example of why not every nostalgic property deserves to be revisited.

Screenshot Courtesy of Warner Bros.

“Space Jam: A New Legacy” stars LeBron James as himself who ends up trapped in the Warner Bros. server when an evil algorithm named Al-G Rhythm (which isn’t even the lest creative thing this movie offers) played by Don Cheadle traps LeBron’s on-screen son Dominic James (Cedric Joe) and forces LeBron into a basketball game for the fate of the world. LeBron is, of course, tasked with putting together a team but after discovering Bugs Bunny, who is alone in the Looney Tunes world after the rest of the cast has given up, the two bring the Tune Squad back together and take on Al-G’s team the Goon Squad who are all inspired by real life NBA and WNBA stars. Going in I tried not to let my bias get the best of me. The trailers looked trash, LeBron has never been my favorite athlete, and if there was ever a movie that screamed Hollywood cash grab sequel this is the one. Sadly, even with an open mind “Space Jam 2” just….it just wasn’t good. LeBron first of all is not a good actor despite having some shining side roles in films like “Trainwreck” and in a voiceover role in “Smallfoot”. Ironically enough it’s when LeBron is animated, which is maybe fifteen minutes of the film, that he shines the most so maybe sticking to animated films should be his focus if he wants a Hollywood future. But it’s not just LeBron’s painful performance that hurts this film.

Screenshot Courtesy of Warner Bros.

First off, this movie is a glittering advertisement for how great LeBron and the people involved in this movie think he is as well as a showcase of how many things you love that Warner Bros. owns. Hell, the whole reason LeBron is dragged into the WB server by Al-G Rhythm, played by a completely phoning-it-in Don Cheadle by the way, is because he is so famous and has so many followers and people call him a “king”. The film makes cracks at him now and then like Bugs asking if LeBron was in the server because he “ran out of teams to play for” and acknowledges that LeBron likes to talk back to his coaches, but all of these jokes feel hollow and come off more as attacks against his critics than genuine exploration of his own character. You don’t get to make fun of yourself when the entire film surrounding these jokes is glorifying how great you are. And the irony, the gall of LeBron saying in the movie that putting sports figures in films “never ends well” and then seeing how this final product turned out, that’s the definition of a self-fulfilling prophecy right there. But it’s not just LeBron. Warner Bros. also takes the time to flaunt everything they own from “The Wizard of Oz” to “Casablanca”, “The Matrix”, “Game of Thrones” and “Harry Potter” just to name a few to the point where I surprised they didn’t just call the server in the film HBO Max which admittedly woulda been a fun and smart play on how the first “Space Jam” was based on an advertisement to begin with. But like most things in this movie that’s a wasted opportunity. Basically, this whole movie feels like one big LeBron James ego trip mixed with a Warner Bros. product showcase.

Screenshot Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Speaking of WB’s own ego, it takes FOREVER to get to the Looney Tunes (around 45 minutes in fact) and when we finally do, they are suffocated by Warner Bros. continued attempts to force every IP they own down our throats. Look, this was charming in “The Lego Batman Movie” and tolerable in “Ready Player One” but what we’re given in “Space Jam 2” in terms of flaunting intellectual properties, from incorporating the Tunes into literal scenes from other WB-owned movies to bringing countless characters courtside for the game including horribly made up extras to represents characters like Agent Smith and Pennywise in the background, is the absolute definition of pandering in excess with little effective payoff. Simply seeing these characters just isn’t enough anymore and in a film that’s supposed to focus on the Looney Tunes and remind the world why they are so beloved they all sadly get lost in the shuffle. This film throws whatever it can at the viewer hoping that brand recognition alone is enough for you to overlook its flaws and its just not. The Tunes are sidelined through much of the film and even when they are finally let loose it’s only for mere minutes before LeBron and the contrived life lessons this film tries to throw at us are thrust back into center stage again.

Screenshot Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Sure, the original film lacked a lot of substance, and the sequel certainly has more style, but the original movie was focused on one thing: pairing the Tunes with the most popular athlete of the time. There’s nothing sincere or memorable about the Tunes involvement this time around compared to the first movie where Jordan felt like an addition to a Tune-centric conflict. Here it feels like the Tunes are involved because it’s expected, but I argue they shouldn’t have been the focus and here’s why. If WB was going to include all of these other IPs then why not just make “Space jam 2” a movie where LeBron plays with all of these characters? It’s even TEASED in the movie that LeBron wants Superman and the Iron Giant on the team…show me THAT movie. At least it would have been something different and expanded on the idea of “Space Jam”. But no, instead we get a horrible mess of CGI renderings and countless reminders of how great LeBron is despite his flaws watering down any character growth he might have had in this picture. However, I can’t say I didn’t find some value to this movie. It feels like a great film to watch high, especially when you see Porky Pig rapping and Granny taking Carrie Ann Moss’s place in a scene from “The Matrix”. These moments that almost made me rage quit also made me want to rewatch the film with a more inebriated mind and they made me laugh for all the wrong reasons. It was a painful laugh. A laugh that only comes from trying to find joy in a film that lacks so much of it…trying to find some value in the two hours of my life I dedicated to giving this film a chance.

Screenshot Courtesy of Warner Bros.

“Space Jam: A New Legacy” is just bad. People can justify it and defend it as being exactly what it’s meant to be, the ultimate practice in IP-based escapism, but even with that standard it’s just not enough. Stilted acting, a frankly unlikable main lead, and completely wasting the Looney Tunes as well as an opportunity to bring all of WB’s intellectual properties together on the court for something even more batshit crazy all add up to one of the most painful viewing experiences I’ve had in years. It’s just plain awful. Yeah, the original movie wasn’t a work of art, but it was simple. It had more Looney Tunes action and frankly did better justice to what those characters stood for in my opinion, and Jordan’s ego usually took a back seat to the concept whereas here LeBron’s ego is front-and-center and even the part of me that respects who he is as a person away from the court can’t ignore that. I’ve used the word irony a few times in this review but here’s one more for you. The basic crux of the relationship between LeBron and his on-screen son is the debate between fundamentals and fun. This film ends up embracing the craziness of having fun as more valuable than sticking to the fundamentals, but if the film itself just stuck to the fundamentals a bit more, giving us relatable characters and a more focused approach as well as doing justice to the Tunes, it had the potential to be something at least acceptable. But in the end the main goal should be to find a happy medium between the fundamentals and the fun, something the in-film LeBron and this movie inevitably fail to accomplish by the time the credits roll.

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