Disclaimer: Mild spoilers for Space Jam: A New Legacy
My expectations were tempered going into Space Jam: A New Legacy. I’m not part of the “Space Jam was bad, actually” crowd. I enjoyed the first as a kid, and I still think it’s a fun little movie to this day. Things are different, though. I was going to give Space Jam: A New Legacy the benefit of the doubt because it’s a kids movie made for today’s youth. It’s not for me, right?
Well, no. I’m the dude who will go back and watch old Chuck Jones and Tex Avery cartoons on YouTube and laugh my ass off. I proudly have the original Space Jam in my movie collection. One of the things I was most excited for when HBO Max launched was the new Looney Tunes show they announced. Simply put: Bugs, Daffy, and Porky Pig have been my A1s since day one.
So when I got toward the end of Space Jam: A New Legacy, and I realized Lil Rel has some of the best gags in a movie with the Looney goddamn Tunes, I knew something had gone seriously awry. (No disrespect to Lil Rel; I always love seeing that man in things.)
The plot of Space Jam: A New Legacy is kind of all over the place. LeBron James stars as NBA player LeBron James. While he’s a beast on the court, he’s instantly established as kind of a shitty dad. His son, Dom, wants to be a videogame designer, but LeBron keeps pushing him to follow in his hooping-ass footsteps.
Meanwhile, Al G Rhythm (Don Cheadle, somehow making this shit work) is the system behind a new algorithm called Warner 3000. I think it somehow Tron’s you into all of the Warner Bros. “serververse” so you can actually be part of the movies? I’m still not really clear on what it is beyond a plot device to get to the titular Jam. For some reason executives at WB think LeBron is the guy to pitch the service to, but LeBron is like “Nah, b. Ball is life,” and trashes the pitch.
Mr. Rhythm, feeling some kind of way about this, teleports LeBron and Dom into the serververse and forces him to play a game of basketball for his freedom. So obviously, he’s gotta gather the Looney Tunes so they can get a real jam going now.
My primary beef with Space Jam: A New Legacy is that it feels less like a movie, and more like a feature length commercial for HBO Max by way of those shitty Movie Movie’s from back in the early aughts. (Date Movie, Epic Movie, Superhero Movie, all that trash) Instead of clever or witty gags, we just get pop culture reference after pop culture reference. It feels like a guy coming up to you and going “Hey remember, that one scene in Training Day?,” and then expecting you to laugh at the fact that Training Day exists.
Also, it’s big fucking weird how many R-rated movies are referenced in this thing. There are whole sequences set in The Matrix and Mad Max: Fury Road. The droogs, the folks who did the raping and killing in A Clockwork Orange, can be seen in the audience during the titular Space Jam. I don’t know what they expect today’s youth to get from these references, and they didn’t do much for me.
I didn’t need much from a cartoon where LeBron James plays basketball with Looney Tunes. It literally just needed to be funny. That’s all I wanted. There were only about three times I let out a genuine chuckle over the course of the movie’s two hour runtime. Also, there’s no reason for a movie about LeBron James hooping with Bugs Bunny to be two hours.
The anarchic, slightly subversive energy that’s prevalent in the best Looney Tunes is gone—replaced with what feels like a Warner Bros exec going “look at all this cool IP we own! Isn’t it so cool that IP simply exists?!” This approach winds up making the Looney Tunes feel like an afterthought in a movie where they’re supposed to be the main characters.
If you’re looking for a clever, heartwarming, comedy that’s fun for the whole family, Space Jam: A New Legacy ain’t that guy, pal. If you simply want to be reminded of all the properties Warner Bros owns, well, you can watch Ready Player One instead.