Film Review: Space Jam: A New Legacy
Space Jam: A New Legacy
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Warner Animation Group and The SpringHill Company
In Theaters and Streaming on HBO MAX: 07.16
In 1997, crass commercialism in mainstream filmmaking reached heretofore unknown lows with the release of Space Jam, a 90-minute advertisement for the NBA. I know, I know—a lot of people have fond memories of it, and it’s far from unwatchable thanks to the Looney Tunes Tunes characters and Bill Murray. But it’s not a movie, it’s a marketing campaign run amok. The good news: Space Jam: A New Legacy is not a big-screen commercial for the NBA. The bad news? It’s a shameless two hour promo for WarnerMedia, and a clumsy one at that.
NBA champion and global icon LeBron James stars in Space Jam: A New Legacy, because Michael Jordan is now retired. But basketball’s loss is acting’s gain, as he’s retired from that as well. Anyway, the “new” film has LeBron and his young son Dom (played by Cedric Joe) trapped in digital space by Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle) a rogue A.I. program, LeBron must get them home safe by leading Bugs Bunny and the whole gang of Looney Tunes characters in a basketball game to gain victory over the A.I. and reconnect with his son while he’s at it.
If you’ve seen the trailers for Space Jam: A New Legacy, you’d be justified in thinking that it’s just Tron crossed with Ready Player One, but in fairness to the film, there’s a strong element of rehashing Hook that carries through the entire movie as well. Director Malcolm D. Lee (Undercover Brother, Girls Trip, Night School) was far too busy with the constant stream of visual effects and product placements crashing into each other like bumper cars to make the so-called story—which took six screenwriters working against each other to create—flow in any way. He does get a more natural performance of James than Jordan gave in the original, but that’s a very low bar to jump over.
Everything that works about Space: Jam: A New Legacy can be chalked up to the Tunes, and I confess that my fondness for Bugs, Daffy and the gang made this almost fun at times. I especially appreciated the fact that the bulk of their screen time is in their traditional, hand-drawn form, as opposed to their CGI video game versions. The film is filled with homages and references to Warner properties, and the funniest are ones that the kids aren’t going to get at all (if kids today even know or care enough about who Bugs Bunny is to bother with the film). The only defense for the near-constant references to distinctly adult properties is that this movie may well be aimed more at parents who grew up on the original and are still operating under the delusion that it was a good movie and are forcing their kids to watch it.
It feels almost silly to discuss the acting and character in a Space Jam movie, but it must be noted that Cheadle brings his A-game, clearly enjoying the chance to be the biggest movie star and the “real” actor who is tasked with carrying the film. But it’s really disheartening to see Sonequa Martin-Green of Star Trek: Discovery and The Walking Dead making her big-screen blockbuster debut playing not only just a thankless, fictionalized version of James’ wife, but one who is given no character, identity or abilities beyond wife and mother. Now, of course, there’s nothing wrong with being those things, but in 2021, even in a family movie this slight, it feels like a remarkably backward portrayal. I’m not saying she needs to be a doctor or a lawyer, but she does need to be a person. The other female lead, Lola Bunny (voiced by Zendaya this time around), is thankfully not portrayed as the disturbingly hypersexualized character she was in the first film but is still not given much to do.
Space Jam: A New Legacy is a loud, frenetic mess, but as a family night out, it’s almost adequate on a certain level. If you love the Looney Tunes characters enough to watch then in anything, it’s worth a look, but certainly not enough to be worth paying full ticket prices—since it’s really just a commercial for HBO Max, it’s almost impolite to see it in a theater. If you really want to see an entertaining movie with Looney Tunes sensibilities on the big screen, I’d say that F9: The Fast Saga is a much safer bet. –Patrick Gibbs