Space Jam: A New Legacy and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros
Directed by Malcolm D Lee
Nostalgia is a heck of a drug, isn’t it? The original Space Jam is certainly a fondly remembered time capsule and it has some highlights to it like its strong animation and some bizarre asides that gave it a bit of flavor despite being such an obvious marketing tool. It’s been over twenty years though and what worked for us back then may not capture the imagination of the “Youth” today, and frankly I couldn’t tell you if any of them have seen or even HEARD of that first movie unless it was shoved on them by their Millennial parents. It seems the question that this movie seeks to answer (along with how to make your budget back with a simultaneous streaming and theater release) is whether you can both reheat old nostalgia while giving something new for next generation to attach themselves to. Does this succeed in giving us the best of both worlds, or will spreading itself too thin leave nobody happy? Let’s find out!!
LeBron James may be a worldwide superstar and really good basketball player, but his parenting skills leave something to be desired as his son Dom (Cedric Joe) isn’t really into basketball despite his dad insisting that he go to Basketball Camp this summer. He’d much rather go to Video Game Camp which I think is what people started calling Computer Camp to trick youngsters into going, but he’s worried about telling his dad that he’d rather make games than play ball. While all this tension is in the air, Warner Bros has called LeBron James over so that their algorithm named Al-G-Rhythm (Don Cheadle) can pitch… some sort of multimedia deal? LeBron seems as confused as I am so he turns it down which OF COURSE makes good ol’ Al go full on Skynet and kidnap him and his son, and drag them both into cyberspace. Since Al-G-Rhythm is a WB program, I guess he’s aware of what a success the original Space Jam movie was and so challenges him to a basketball game while he mentors Dom and nourishes his desire to make video games. It’s up to LeBron to find the most suitable characters owned by WB to join his basketball team, or failing that the Looney Tunes characters led by Bugs Bunny (Jeff Bergman), and get his son back by winning a game of basketball! Can LeBron bring the Toons back together who’ve long been separated while also bridging the gap between him and his son? What is Al-G-Rhythm’s plans for Dom once he’s done making his game, and will it spell doom for his family? Wait, why do they call it Space Jam when no one in this is from Space? Shouldn’t it be Cyber Jam?
I find myself in quite a pickle over this film and frankly I might be getting too old for this. Yes, I’m a nineties kid and yes, I think the original Space Jam is a good movie. It’s a commercial to be sure, but I find it extremely endearing and rather funny in its own bizarrely charming way. I was hoping that that leniency I had about the flaws in that movie would give me enough perspective to see the charms of this film that’s aimed at a new audience the same way the original was aimed at me… but I just can’t do it. I’m gonna be one big OLD MAN YELLING AT CLOUDS cliché and tell you that this new movie is not very good and that the original was better. I take no joy in this! I don’t WANT to be the guy telling you all how things were better in my day, especially when talking about such commercial fluff as these films, but outside of maybe one or two ideas here and there I just didn’t see anything in this overly commercialized tripe was better than the commercialize tripe I saw as a kid.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves though and talk about what works in here and how it even improves on the original film. The biggest one is probably the villain played by Don Cheadle who actually has a story arc here instead of just being an angry dude on the sidelines. Sure, Danny DeVito was fun as Mr. Swackhammer, but he was just a one dimensional Capitalist jerk who wasn’t even there for most of the movie. He was fun whenever he DID bother to show up, but he was hardly driving the plot or even much of a threat. Don Cheadle doesn’t have the BEST writing to work with here (especially towards the end of the movie), but his performance adds a lot to the character and he genuine drives the story with his sinister machinations; especially whenever he plays the FUN DAD to LeBron Jame’s Dom. Speaking of the kid, the story arc for the celebrity basketball star in this movie is much more fleshed out than what we got in the first one. The only think Michael Jordan was working through was whether or not he still liked playing basketball, while this movie has LeBron James working through some serious issues that have put a wedge between himself and his son, so there IS a purpose to everything that’s going on here aside from showing a basketball player winning against a bunch of animated monsters.
There are even some very solid jokes in this movie, especially the Michael Jordan one which may be the funniest thing in either movie, but once we move away from the stronger writing for its lead and its villain is where things start to go a bit sideways. The original movie was no doubt a commercial for everything from Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association, to Hanes, Nikes, Wheaties, Gatorade, and McDonalds (Thanks, Newman!) but at its worst it was just THERE; taking up the few seconds it needed before returning us to the movie. Here, the marketing strategy IS the movie as the whole thing is built upon the Warner Bros brand; like if Kingdom Hearts didn’t have any endearing qualities. The characters spend the entire middle section of the movie just going from Warner Bros property to Warner bros property to remind you to buy HBO Max, and sure some of the cameos were cute like when Rick and Morty showed up for thirty seconds or the fun little trip to the Mad Max universe, but it all feels so hollow and cheap in a way that the first Space Jam movie managed to avoid. Honestly, the part of that movie that holds up the best for me (aside from Bill Murray) is the strange subplot of the basketball stars losing their powers and either trying to fix it or trying to find a way to accept it. Do you remember the part where Charles Barkley gets punked out by a bunch of kids while a Barry White cover of Basketball Jones is playing!? There’s just nothing in here that feels that earnest to make up for how much of this is built around advertising to you as much as possible.
Even if you took out the obnoxious advertising though, I still think this is the lesser of the two films; especially when it comes to the big game at the end. I was playing Mr. Nice Guy as much as I could earlier, but now it’s time for me to really get into this script! If I had to boil down this movie’s failings into one word, it would BUSY because nothing in this movie is simple enough to go without copious amounts of exposition and none of it feels the least bit necessary. The original movie may not have been THE MOST straightforward plot imaginable, but they still managed to get it across without having to explain itself over and over again. Aliens want the Looney Tunes who live in the center of the Earth, and Michael Jordan is going to save them by playing a basketball game. Sure, that leaves a few questions but it’s pretty succinct all things considered! This movie on the other hand can’t help but get in its own way constantly with techno-babble that would make Star Trek blush and a constant deluge of information to try and justify its many concepts; from the giant Warne Bros server universe to the mechanics of Dom’s video game to the ridiculously advanced technology that ends up raising more questions than it answers! On an individual character basis the writing is fine and as I said earlier there are parts in here where it’s an improvement over the original, but the film somehow feels even MORE shallow than the original which I admit MIGHT be due to nostalgia googles, but the sheer amount of stuff going on just crowds out what could have been a much better script. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, the basketball game itself isn’t very good either; not because of the CG animation which looks just fine, but all the nonsense surrounding it. Again, nostalgia goggles and all that, but like everything else in this movie it’s too busy and lacks cohesion so that you can barely follow what’s going on; especially when they introduce STYLE POINTS which are arbitrarily applied and only further cement the artifice of everything we see. Okay, maybe I’m the only one who cares about that, but I’m sure no one was hoping to see Porky Pig rap in the middle of the game, but sure enough that’s what we got. It’s not like the first movie didn’t have its own moments of cringe humor, but at least for me the bad humor is much more prevalent and there just isn’t enough good stuff, whether it’s a coherent story or an enjoyable basketball game, to balance it out.
The older we Millennials get, the more we will become like our parents; being dragged to lousy kids movies we don’t want to see and having to deal with them becoming cultural touchstones for a new generation. We got the original Space Jam, so it’s only fitting that Zoomers get one too. Is it a bad movie? Yeah, it’s pretty bad and perhaps the original Space Jam was bad too, but for what it’s worth I think this one takes two steps backward for every step it takes forward. Its stronger characters are overshadowed by a slapdash script, the decent visuals are wasted on scenes that are uninteresting, and while some of the humor does outclass the original film, it’s so much more weighed down by its incessant WB product placement. For families, it might be worth checking out at home but for Millennials who want a flashy update to their childhood fave, you might want to look elsewhere. I’ve certainly seen worse attempts at trying to push my nostalgia buttons (*COUGH* Power Rangers *COUGH*), but if you ask me we’re not gonna get a TRUE 90s nostalgia box office smash until they do a Cartoon Network Cinematic Universe. COME ON, WB! I NEED to see Megas on the big screen!!