SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY (hereafter simply referred to as “LEGACY”) is directed by Malcolm D. Lee. The film stars LeBron James, Zendaya, Don Cheadle, and Cedric Joe (there are also many celebrity cameos/guests appearances I won’t spoil here).
Basketball superstar LeBron James finds himself at a crossroads, struggling with raising his youngest son, who seems more interested in designing video games than following in his dad’s footsteps as an athlete on the court. When an algorithm at Warner Bros. Studios reacts negatively to James’ cold reception, he traps him and his son, challenging them to a high-stakes basketball game with everyone’s fate on the line. James must recruit Warner’s most famous animated characters for the game, but will their combined talents be enough to go toe to toe with inhuman game characters on the court?
No one asked for a sequel to SPACE JAM. That movie had its issues and it’s certainly dated today, though I won’t deny how enjoyable and whimsical it is; the unlikely premise made for a pretty big hit, so it’s not surprising to see Warner go back and try to create a hit from the premise again a quarter century later. In Michael Jordan’s place is LeBron James, one of the biggest and most successful players of the sport today. The film manages to have some entertaining slapstick humor, enjoyable animation, and even some heartwarming father and son moments, but it feels like the movie is more interested in showing off Warner’s other multimillion-dollar franchises (and a few classics) instead of focusing on the actual plot of the film (what little there is of one).
One of the initial points of contention I had with this film upon first hearing about it was using a basketball player other than Michael Jordan for the core “human” character; Jordan had a likable charisma on and off the court that made him one of the most famous and successful people of his generation. You could know nothing about sports and still know who Michael Jordan is. However, this is actually one place the movie pleasantly surprised me. LeBron James comes off as surprisingly human and well-rounded, and seeing his relationships with the other characters in the movie doesn’t just feel like an afterthought. In particular, trying to do what’s necessary to earn his son’s love and respect makes for some powerful scenes that may have been better at home in a more serious film. Any doubts I had about James playing his role were shattered relatively early in the film, In many ways, LeBron James IS the movie, so hats off to him here.
The movie also earn points for not just being a rehash of the 1996 original. Yes, the “plot” is basically just a serious of loosely-connected vignettes to get the heroes and villains to engage in a showdown on a video game-style basketball court. But the actual game itself scores points for the game-style elements, meaning it’s not just “a straight basketball games with Looney Tunes characters.” It’s good to see the filmmakers at least finding fresh elements for this concept rather than simply rehashing the earlier film. While I didn’t necessarily like LEGACY as well as the original film, I won’t deny that it’s better structured and does have a more interesting and charismatic villain.
Unfortunately, other aspects of the film don’t fare as well. The single biggest problem is that the screenwriters (and this film had a TON of them) didn’t realize they were supposed to be making a sequel to SPACE JAM, not READY PLAYER ONE! The movie wastes so much time and momentum showing off other intellectual properties under the Warner Bros. umbrella that it loses sight of the Warner Bros. Animation characters the movie should be focusing on. I appreciated how the original SPACE JAM had a huge cast of animated cameos, but it was limited to the Looney Tunes family. Here, all bets are off, and the filmmakers just reference whatever they want under the WB umbrella. The huge disappointment here is that many of these intellectual properties being referenced are NOT family appropriate. Why is a family film referencing a TV-MA rated series like GAME OF THRONES? Why is Pennywise the Clown from IT seen as a spectator at the big game? I even spotted the Droogs from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE in the audience; this film should never be referenced or even so much as mentioned in a movie made for families. The movie is admittedly fun for its “spot the cameo” aspect, but it takes away too much from the main film and what should be a celebration of Looney Tunes and Lebron James’ basketball career, not a cameo fest.
The biggest problem with this is that the Warner Animation characters get neglected. We could’ve used some fresh blood on the court - Why are the characters from TINY TOON ADVENTURES and ANIMANIACS not used in a starring capacity instead of all the other random intellectual properties seen in the movie? (Okay, I admittedly spotted Yakko, Wakko, and Dot making a cameo, but that’s not the same thing as giving these characters a larger role).
I wanted to love LEGACY, but it just feels too unfocused and feels like Warner wanting to show off franchises that have nothing to do with Looney Tunes, which goes against the very premise of SPACE JAM; the writers apparently didn’t get the memo they were supposed to be making a sequel to SPACE JAM and not READY PLAYER ONE. Referencing R and TV-MA rated franchises in a family film is also horribly inappropriate and out of place, giving the end result even more mixed a reception. I give it about two-and-a-half out of four stars; I can’t quite recommend it, but I do believe it’ll entertain its intended audience.