So, I’m going to start out this review by clearly stating I am not a fan of the 1996 film Space Jam. I saw it for the first time a year and a half ago, not when I was a child, but when I was roughly 27 years old, and I didn’t like it then. So having said that, I have no nostalgia for this property and am not looking at this weekend’s Space Jam: A New Legacy with nostalgia blinders. But, like with any movie, I approach it wanting to have a good time, and in this case, hoping it surprises me. Instead I felt the light inside me slowly die for two hours. A New Legacy is a charmless, overstuffed, tedious and altogether excruciating assault on cinema and everything I love about it.
When basketball star LeBron James (as himself) is approached by a Warner Bros. executive about a chance to break into the movie business, he brings his son along to the WB lot. Once there, they meet a villainous internet algorithm having taken human form, Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle). He traps father and son in a digital hellscape where LeBron must team up with beloved characters from the Looney Tunes to win a big basketball game to save his own life and his son’s, with the looming threat of being stuck in this game forever if he does not win.
A generous description of Space Jam: A New Legacy would be to simply state that this movie just isn’t for me. And while that may be true, this could have been for me. With a decent level of self-awareness and even one good meta joke about the Hollywood industrial complex, I could have had some fun with this. But unfortunately, almost nothing goes right for the film’s bloated and exhaustive 115 minute running time. And also, it’s almost indecipherable who this movie is for to begin with.
The central problem plaguing both Space Jams is neither lead is really an actor. The first has the fun of Michael Jordan not really wanting to be here, but having fun with his position of just being along for the ridiculous ride. LeBron James wants to be a movie star – he’s had bit parts in movies like Trainwreck and Smallfoot – and while charming in Trainwreck specifically, it is painfully obvious here James is not an actor. He seems to be straining hard for comedic effect, and he’s charmless and has a very difficult time acting against animated characters added in post-production.
A New Legacy also plays a lot like that 30 Rock pandemic special last year that was really an upfront special for NBC’s fall schedule as well as a glorified commercial for their new streamer Peacock. Space Jam: A New Legacy reeeeeeallllllyyyyy wants you to sign up for HBO Max – it’s an even more crude version of the constant referential nature of movies like Ready Player One and Ralph Breaks the Internet. Ready Player One annoyed me so much because it was a constant barrage of “here’s a thing you know! Here’s another thing you know!”, but this is somehow much more egregious in its references and brand worship. The biggest takeaway from this movie in general is the staggering amount of intellectual property Warner Bros. owns, and the movie keeps whacking you over the head with it continuously for two hours.
Back to my earlier question of who is this movie even for – the references to existing property range from the obvious to the bizarre. I don’t think it’s for children. Do today’s kids even know the Looney Tunes? In this internet world, there are different worlds for different IPs – aside from Looney Tunes, there’s a Harry Potter world, a Game of Thrones world, there’s scenes where we go into the worlds of movies like Mad Max: Fury Road, The Matrix, Austin Powers, and Casablanca – every child’s favorite.
We even see Pennywise and The Mask and The Nun and the Wicked Witch of the West in the crowd at the basketball game. Would it have been too much to ask for them to include Elizabeth Taylor’s character from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in the crowd, with a martini and a cigarette, looking like she’s having a terrible time? Because I promise you, everyone else is. Would it be fair to say this movie is for the grown adults who were children when they first fell in love with Space Jam? I don’t know, I think most of them have grown beyond this kind of thing.
It’s also way too long, and easily could have lost a half hour. In fact, if you’re watching this at home and you wanted to start it about 30 minutes in, you wouldn’t be missing much and you also wouldn’t be confused as to what’s happening. It’s also very telling that some bigger names involved in the original just didn’t want to be a part of this one. Michael Jordan doesn’t even cameo, and what is he even doing these days? Bill Murray also couldn’t be bothered to show up on set for a day, and who could blame him? We don’t even have Gal Gadot doing the voice of an animated Wonder Woman. Zendaya, who actually has a career these days, voices Lola Bunny, and I have no idea why she decided to waste her time with this. Her work is pretty solid, though.
Malcolm D. Lee directed this, and he’s a director with one good movie (Girls Trip) to his name. Ryan Coogler was going to direct, and instead he’s just producing. However, this movie doesn’t really feel like anyone made it, and instead has that modern blockbuster thing of a film being directed by studio notes. It does not feel like a human being had anything to do with the making of this film, it feels like more credit should be given to faceless suits and the post-production team strictly following studio notes. I also have to mention this cost Warner Bros. $150 million to produce. It’s truly depressing to think of the number of quiet, awards-baity dramas that could have been made for that money.
In the end, Space Jam: A New Legacy is an utter debacle and a grossly cynical example of corporate greed and brand worship. I’ve been consciously deciding to see the Warner Bros/HBO Max day-and-date theatrical/streaming releases in theaters in the interest of supporting the theatrical experience in a time where it’s in more jeopardy than ever. I saw this one at home, though and while I wouldn’t recommend watching it at all, I would say this is fine to watch on HBO Max for two reasons. One, it will make enough money because parents will take their children to see this, but also because this movie is desperately asking you to become an HBO Max subscriber. You can watch all of the properties referenced, they’re all right there! All of the things you know from the last two hours you somehow survived are right at your fingertips! Maybe watch one of those instead.