As I sat in the theater waiting for my screening of Space Jame: A New Legacy, the long-awaited sequel/reboot of 1997’s Space Jam, I came to the realization that not everyone else held the first film in the same kind of esteem as I did. The older critics I was sitting with did not look back on the film with a kind of fun nostalgia but instead scoffed at it with little memory of the movie at all. It was a bit odd.
For many of my generation and those who grew up with the birth of the Internet, Space Jam holds a kind of special place. Not only was it a movie with the biggest star on earth at the time, Michael Jordan, but it had the Looney Tunes, still with some clout. It also lived on as a meme of sorts, cherished in circles of the web that loved it for nostalgic and absurdist reasons. I think I’d forgotten that that probably isn’t the vast majority of the population. For many Space Jam: A New Legacy isn’t some long-awaited return of a meme film but a Lebron James vehicle. I do wonder how the film played for them because I found a film that couldn’t live up to the past and wasn’t quite good enough to stand on its own.
Space Jam: A New Legacy
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Release Date: July 16, 2021 (Theatrical and HBO Max)
Space Jam: The New Legacy shouldn’t really have the word new in it at all. It is almost beat for beat the exact same film as Space Jam except for being 15 minutes longer, bringing the movie in at a whopping two hours. What’s really impressive and yet entirely uninteresting is that despite the film being that long the basketball game takes up the majority of the run time, leaving almost no room for an actual plot of any sort to develop even if that plot is pretty bare.
A fictional version of Lebron James and his son, Dom (Cedric Joe) are sucked into the Warner Bros. computer system, the Warnerverse, by an evil AI named Al G. Rythm (Don Cheadle). Al is tired of not being recognized by humanity for his brilliance in creating all of WB’s current success (the DCEU would like a word) and kidnaps Dom in order to force Lebron to play a basketball game so that the world can finally see his greatness. Lebron, in turn, is suckered into recruiting the Tune Squad (minus Pepe LePew) by Bugs Bunny and then they play a video game version of basketball created by Dom’s son, who is having daddy issues.
Honestly, the plot makes little sense as is but the speed with which it is rushed through to get to a game that takes up at least half the film is insane. The funniest part of the film is Lebron and Bugs flying around the Warnerverse plucking up different Tunes in different classic WB films (a cameo from Rick and Morty is especially good) but it’s over before it can get its legs. There are themes of family running through the entire thing but nothing can ever really be set up as the film rushes to the big game, which features a crowd of WB IP that all look like knock-offs of the originals.
The game itself is fun enough to watch but for some reason, all the Looney Tunes are transformed into CGI versions of themselves for the entire thing sucking them of the cartoonish personality. It can be fun to watch but it goes on for so long that it’s hard to really enjoy it all the way through. The film’s humor is hit and miss as well, often succeeding when it leans into the classic slapstick comedy of the old cartoons and falling flat when it’s trying to be too clever. There’s also a lot of forced cameos from across WB’s franchises, making a lot of the humor like Family Guy‘s “remember that thing” style instead of actual jokes.
James does a good job in the movie, though he doesn’t quite have the same onscreen presence that Jordan did. He’s clearly not an actor but he’s got enough charm to make it through the movie and can pull off a double-take when he needs to. It’s really Cheadle who steals the show, overplaying the role to such an extent that you can’t help but enjoy it. There’s not a moment in the film where he’s not camping it up and it’s really glorious, especially since I don’t think he was on a set that wasn’t a green screen at any time.
Of course, all of these issues, aside from the run time, could probably be levied at the original Space Jam, and yet I personally love it. That film works for me and this one doesn’t quite but there’s a kid out there who is going to love it and watch it over and over because it works enough for that. Space Jam: A New Legacy might not be good enough for now but in 24 years when they make another there will probably be a 30-something-year-old critic sitting in the audience wondering why I don’t have the same respect for this unmitigated classic.
Then again, I may just be overly upset that there isn’t a Bill Murray cameo.