Review: Space Jam: A New Legacy (Lee, 2021)

Starring: LeBron James, Don Cheadle, and Cedric Joe

Rating: D+

During a recent episode of the podcast Star Trek: The Pod Directive, co-host Paul F. Tompkins brought up the point of how silly it is that people will defend things they enjoyed during their childhood vehemently, as though their opinion as an eight year old stands firm beyond context of age or a differing opinion through growth as a critical thinker. This rings too true in our current age of nostalgia baiting and toxic pop culture discourse, with new entries in beloved franchises being stripped of merit before release, having all context siphoned through an endlessly layered vortex of groupthink internet self cannibalization. Space Jam: A New Legacy is no different, an overstuffed self congratulatory circle-jerk that, more or less, is the same as the 1996 original. However, through the lens of a sequel that’s nostalgic about a movie that’s built on nostalgia, it becomes impossible to talk about without regarding the online discourse itself.

Space Jam: A New Legacy stars NBA living-legend LeBron James as himself, an elite athlete who’s lost touch with what’s most important: his family. Years of making basketball his number one priority has alienated his youngest son Dom (Joe), who dreams of a life in the video game industry instead of following in his father’s footsteps. After James refuses an offer created by Warner Bros.’ sentient computer algorithm Al G. Rhythm (Cheadle) to be placed into Warner’s backlog of popular franchises, the artificial intelligence kidnaps both him and his son, eventually splitting the two against each other. It’s up to James, with the help of the Bugs Bunny led Looney Tunes, to defeat Al G. Rhythm at a basketball game to regain their freedom and win back his son’s respect and admiration.  

Don’t let the technobabble fool you, this is essentially the same premise as the original Space Jam. Sure, it has the window dressing of modernity with its frequent references to meme-culture, but the basic premise is still the same. However, this time it comes wrapped in even more gratuitous nostalgia bait in the vein of Warner Bros. other self-referencing masturbatory parade, Steven Spielberg’s ghastly Ready Player One. A major plot point of A New Legacy comes in the form of the Looney Tunes characters residing in the same Warner Bros. “server-verse” as other Warner intellectual property: Harry Potter, DC Comics, The Matrix, so on and so forth. All whom show up here, filling every nook and cranny of available space – the frame bursting at the seams with content.

That’s all it is, just a stream of content. Space Jam: A New Legacy is a movie, no doubt, but it’s also serving as a commercial for the vast Warner Bros. library of entertainment. As obnoxious as it is, it’s not really any different than the original Space Jam’s love of corporate consumerism, a film which can’t last five minutes without worshiping McDonald’s, Nike, or any other labor exploitive overlord. 

All this to say, how is this any different? The endless internet hot takes that cry foul for this particular film, what were you expecting? Anyone that views the 1996 original as anything other than what it is, a two hour commercial for its brand, is in complete and utter denial, unable to decontextualize from childhood entertainment and legitimate age-appropriate criticism. In the words of today’s internet, the original film is just as cringe. Sure, A New Legacy has Granny doing bullet-time action set pieces straight out of The Matrix, but Space Jam, too, had Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam referencing Pulp Fiction. In both instances, it’s embarrassing and stupid. 

On its own, regardless of context, this movie is also just as serviceable as the original. At the very least, it doesn’t grossly sexualize the Lola Bunny character, and LeBron, who is not a good actor, is a much more charismatic lead than Michael Jordan. Children who want to see cartoons play basketball who aren’t able to conceptualize wether it’s “good” or “bad” will more than likely have fun, even though the nearly two hour runtime is 30-45 minutes longer than necessary and will challenge the strongest of attention spans. Space Jam: A New Legacy is far from the cringe disaster message boards make it out to be, but it’s still not very good, continuing the legacy of mediocrity of its predecessor. 

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