REVIEW: ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ is Fun for All

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Space Jam: A New Legacy

From concept alone, Space Jam: A New Legacy is a bold endeavor twenty-five years after Michael Jordan shook the world by starring alongside Bugs Bunny to deliver unexpected fun for the whole family. Picking a man in LeBron James who has lived in the shadow of Michael Jordan for his entire career to head that endeavor is even bolder.  Space Jam (1996) provided zany cartoon antics for the kids and plenty of references for the adults in a perfect storm. As its namesake implies, Space Jam: A New Legacy attempts to answer the question sports fan will debate until the end of time, can LeBron James career compete (both on the court and on the big screen) with Michael Jordan?

Directed by Malcolm D. Lee,  Space Jam: A New Legacyfollows a similar concept to its predecessor: a professional basketball player has to team up with the Looney Tunes to win a high stakes basketball game. The road the sequel takes to get there is another route entirely as it attempts to relate to a wider audience in the 21st century. Space Jam‘s (1996) story focused on Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes defeating the evil that was Swackhammer’s Disney-esque commodification. In Space Jam: A New Legacy trades Swackhammer for the only thing that might scare adults even more than monopolization: company algorithms determining what we get to consume.

Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle), Warner Bros.’s own A.I algorithm that inhabits the WB Serververse, traps LeBron James and his son Dom James (Cedric Joe) in the Warner 3000 which Al-G wants to use to profit off of LeBron’s star power. While similar to Swackhammer’s goal, Space Jam: A New Legacy attempts to add extra layers as it paints Warner Bros. itself as the money-hungry villain while following also a crumbling father-son relationship. In doing so, A New Legacy takes on a much larger task than its predecessor which may be a make or break for many viewers.

In the 115 minutes long runtime, A New Legacy spends the entire first act establishing the film’s overall message of “do you” and not what others expect you to do. To accomplish this feel-good message that was lacking from the original, viewers follow LeBron James who as a child was forced to put away distractions like video games to focus on basketball to change his life and those around him. As an adult, he pushes his sons to excel in basketball as well. While it works for his older son Darius James (Ceyair J. Wright), it creates a rift between his younger son Dom James who no longer loves the game of basketball and wants to focus on his passion for video game design. Just as his coach did for him when he was Dom’s age, LeBron pushes Dom to put away the distractions and give 100% to basketball much to his son’s dismay. The premise of the relationship is easy enough to establish but taking the time to do so means that it takes well over 30 minutes until we meet a Looney Tune. This is very unlike the original that focused more on the Looney Tunes from the get-go which may rub some viewers the wrong way.

Once LeBron and Dom are warped into the Serververse by Al-G, the film begins to jump into what Space Jam can expect. Al-G challenges LeBron to a basketball game for the safety of his son who Al-G has abducted and begun to turn Dom against his overbearing father. Al-G casts an animated LeBron out to Tune World in the Serververse to assemble his team that can cast of any Warner Bros. IP. What ensues in an entire second act of LeBron and Bugs Bunny traveling around different franchises to reunite the now scattered Looney Tunes. With the vast amount of IP under the control of Warner Bros., the team assembly sequence shines for me as LeBron and Bugs travel go to a wide variety of franchises that got laughs from both kids and adults alike.

However, I think this is where A New Legacy might lose some of the older viewers. The amount of IP thrown out in the last half of the movie might be jarring. Prepare for a Ready Player One type sequence that places both LeBron James’s real-life fans and WB IP as fans. The critique of the overuse of IP is one that will undoubtedly be brought up. While valid, I believe that is the point. We are twenty-five years later in the universe and WB now sees itself as the one with the over commodification of properties. Personally, I enjoyed searching the crowd and finding characters like the Scooby Gang, Mr. Freeze, Night King, and a host of characters from my favorite franchises as the film went on.

Truthfully though, I don’t think the addition of so much IP takes away from the Looney Tunes in any way. The additional characters and franchises are clearly more for jokes as the Looney Tunes play off the craziness of having Granny as Trinity from the Matrix franchise or seeing Hanna Barbera characters in the crowd. Throughout A New Legacy, all of the characters get their own time to shine by showing their own contributions to the team while peppering in a slew of pop culture references for the adults to get while the hijinks ensue. Half the fun of the viewing was hearing older viewers and younger viewers alike will see characters they know and love as the game goes And the game does go on for quite a while.

Almost the entire third act is the basketball game which takes much longer to get through than in the original. In a game of Dom’s own design, the Tune Squad faces off against the Goon Squad made up of the embodiment of professional basketball player nicknames. They are led by Dom who is convinced the game is nothing more than a way to get back at his dad despite the dire stakes. The game itself is essentially an accumulation of the film itself. There are wacky antics, between the Tunes and Goons and lots of pop culture refer all while LeBron desperately tries to reach his son as he goes on his own journey of letting go of control.

On top of that though, LeBron’s acting in Space Jam: A New Legacy is not going to win any awards by any means. And at the same time though, his on-screen family is a mirror of his own family which allows the pro athlete to deliver some heartfelt moments as he attempts to reconnect with Dom. While I could go without a rap battling Porky Pig and a few other gags, many of the scenes got laughs even if the game lasted probably fifteen minutes longer than it had to.

If you go into Space Jam: A New Legacy expecting to feel how you felt watching Space Jam (1996) when you were twelve years old, you will be disappointed. Ultimately at its heart, A New Legacy is a kid’s movie with a ton of adults jokes and references added in as well. Having watched Space Jam (1996) for the first time as an adult the night prior to A New Legacy, I can confidently say it hits different now. While once I was entertained by the hijinks as a kid, I found myself much more entertained by the adult jokes that went over my head twenty years ago. Space Jam: A New Legacy had that same effect on me as I found myself laughing more at the jokes spanning all of pop culture than just the slapstick ACNE sequences. And that works. 

Space Jam: A New Legacy brings a film meant to be enjoyed by everyone whether you are 12-years-old, a millennial inundated in pop culture, or from an older generation who grew up on WB IPs. If you aren’t having fun with Space Jam: A New Legacy, then you are missing the film’s overarching feel-good measure which is getting back to the basics of what makes us happy. 

Space Jam: A New Legacy is available in theaters nationwide and on HBOMax July 16, 2021.


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    Rating - 8/10
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TL;DR

Space Jam: A New Legacy brings a film meant to be enjoyed by everyone whether you are 12-years-old, a millennial inundated in pop culture, or from an older generation who grew up on WB IPs. If you aren’t having fun with Space Jam: A New Legacy, then you are missing the film’s overarching feel-good measure which is getting back to the basics of what makes us happy.