Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021)
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Writers: Juel Taylor, Tony Rettenmaier, Keenan Coogler, Terence Nance, Jesse Gordon, and Celeste Ballard
Starring: LeBron James, Don Cheadle, Khris Davis, Sonequa Martin-Green, Cedric Joe, Jeff Bergman, Eric Bauza, and Zendaya
Plot: After LeBron James rejects Warner Bros’ algorithm’s plan for him to star in everything, he is forced to play a game a game of basketball where the fate of all of his fans are on the line.
Review: Let me just start off by saying that I love the original Space Jam. I know it’s not the classic piece of cinema that us millennials like to pretend it is. It’s a deeply flawed movie that just tugs on all of my nostalgia. There was just something deeply satisfying about watching two of the biggest staples of my childhood teaming up on screen together. Unfortunately, Space Jam: A New Legacy did not quite tickle that same itch for me. It was entertaining enough. I was never bored. All of the elements of a Space Jam movie were there, but it never actually FELT like Space Jam. Or at least not in any way that mattered.
On paper, A New Legacy brought an absolutely incredible amount of IP together for this movie. Not content to just feature our favorite Tunes, Warner Bros brought in the entire HBO Max library. We’re talking everything from Casablanca to Game of Thrones. The Jetsons to A Clockwork Orange. If WB has the rights and it’s popular, they’re in there somewhere. Unfortunately, they’re also kinda just there. Heck, they’re barely even acting like the character we know and love. It’s cool to see Pennywise show up, but just having him acting like a typical basketball fan in the background kind of ruins the point of the character. These characters serve no purpose to the plot. They’ve just been dragged out because WB could. It’s an aesthetic. A product placement. Something to be tossed in without any real thought or care. I guess it’s just to get us to chuckle out of recognition. But, to be fair, this isn’t their movie. They are background set dressing, right? It’s kind of unfair to judge the whole movie for that.
Sure. That’s true to a certain degree. This is a Looney Tunes movie after all. Unfortunately though, the Looney Tunes don’t really fare all that much better. Each of them gets a moment to shine, but honestly it’s not much more than that. You would get a better feel for these characters by watching just one of their shorts than you would this two hour movie. Daffy Duck, arguably the second most famous in the group, especially gets the shaft. I can’t remember a single funny or even noteworthy thing he did all movie. And that’s really unfortunate. This is Space Jam! It’s a Looney Tunes franchise! While it’s true that they’ve always split the screen with other icons, it feels so disproportionate here. Seriously, it feels like they’ve been pushed down to third or even fourth fiddle here. First and foremost, it’s the LeBron James show in ways that make MJ’s ego look small. Second is the WB IP. Third is Don Cheadle’s (honestly terrific) scene chewing villain. Then, maybe I’d slot the Looney Tunes in there. Maybe. Honestly, whenever I’m asked about this movie in the future, I’m probably going to remember everything but the Tunes. And that’s a real bummer. Space Jam works because Bugs and Michael Jordan are BOTH iconic. It was a celebration of what made both great together. A New Legacy feels like it exists just to stoke LeBron James’ ego.
Now that I’ve complained about it a lot, let me clarify that I did not really dislike this movie. It was fine. I was entertained by it. The plot about LeBron learning to accept that maybe his son has other interests other than basketball was touching. The jokes were funny, especially those made at LeBron’s expense. As a Cleveland fan, there are a couple that hit especially close to home that I’m surprised he let remain in. And, though it’s easy to criticize as heartless corporate synergy, I do really like this one extended sequence that involves rounding up the Tunes from other Warner Bros worlds. Call me an easy target if you will but seeing Bugs Bunny in Mad Max gear is guaranteed to put a smile on my face.
So, overall, I’ve got very mixed feelings on Space Jam: A New Legacy. Was it the disaster many are saying it is? I don’t think so. I had a good time watching it. Will I ever revisit it? Probably not. I can get a more satisfying Looney Tunes fix from elsewhere and I don’t really ever find myself needing a LeBron James fix. It was pretty much just a nice Friday evening activity. In one ear and out the other. Nothing to write home about, but no completely heinous complaints either. Except of course the Looney Tunes getting the shaft. I’ll never stop complaining about that.
TL;DR: Space Jam: A New Legacy is entertaining enough, but I wish there were more Looney Tunes in this Looney Tunes movie.
Score: 6/10 (OK)