There’s only so much star power a movie can have. Pulp Fiction and Interstellar show how to do it right — the cast gets their time to shine, and isn’t overshadowed by the sheer amount of talent involved. The opposite is true for Space Jam: A New Legacy.
While the sequel to the 1996 cult classic isn’t so much bogged down by the actors involved (though there are many), it mostly suffers from an influx of intellectual property (IP). Warner Bros, the studio behind about half of the movies and shows you love, has decided to throw all of their IP at the Space Jam wall and see what sticks. This movie is about the Looney Tunes playing basketball, but you’ll see cameos from King Kong, the Iron Giant, the Scooby gang, Pennywise the Dancing Clown, and many more. Too many, in fact.
The main star, NBA superstar LeBron James (playing a fictionalized version of himself) seems to always be sidelined to make room for these recognizable characters and properties. He also isn’t given a very decent story — James is absorbed into the Warner Bros “ServerVerse” by an evil AI (Don Cheadle) and is forced to compete in a virtual basketball game in order to escape.
Doesn’t sound very intelligent, does it? True to my expectations, A New Legacy doesn’t have too much to say; its messages about the importance of family and freedom are formulaic and overused, and from the beginning it’s very clear what outcome the story will have. There’s another moral in here about the dangers of self-aware technology, but it gets lost in the fantastical nature of the situation — it’s so unrealistic, it’s hard to take seriously.
Let’s talk positives, though, because there are plenty. The film isn’t interminable to sit through, and for the most part is a decent distraction. It offers some pretty creative visual gags, and some clever ideas to go along with it. Integrations with some Warner Bros IP are actually really entertaining — who would’ve thought seeing Wile E. Coyote as a War Boy from Mad Max: Fury Road, or Granny as Trinity from The Matrix would be legitimate possibilities? We also see a modified scene from Casablanca (now there’s a reference children will understand) and Justin Roiland pops in for a voice cameo as both Rick and Morty. It ain’t all bad.
Don Cheadle is another of the film’s high points, though it’s clear he’d rather be anywhere else. Still, he’s committed to his performance — his character’s name is Al G. Rhythm (a play on ‘algorithm’), and he’s obviously having fun with it. LeBron James, also, is not terrible — in fact, he’s a better performer than most athletes-turned-actors. Throughout most of the film, James and Cheadle are quite literally immersed in this visual world — everything around them is computer-generated, but their rapport with their simulated co-stars is so believable I’ll give it a pass for the overuse of CGI.
There’s really no way this movie could work without the visual effects, though. They’ve embraced the technical innovations from the last quarter century, and the effects are nothing short of stunning. They hinge the story so much on the effects, so they’re lucky that they pulled it off; if they didn’t, there’s no doubt this movie would’ve been an absolute disaster. Instead, it’s only half a disaster.
It’s required that you suspend all of your disbelief going into this Space Jam sequel that no one needed. It has flimsy excuses for every plot hole or inconsistency that emerges, so it’s best not to think about it. The ending is strange and feels disconnected from the rest of the movie, and — I can’t believe I’m saying this — but there are too many references. It’s like the film wanted to be Ready Player One, but didn’t have a good enough reason to bring all of the Warner Bros characters together. In the end, that’s why this movie exists in the first place. Despite its best attempts to disguise itself as anything else, Space Jam: A New Legacy is a giant advertisement for Warner Bros properties that manages to coast by on its performances and visuals. Like the vastly superior Apple TV+ show Ted Lasso, Space Jam is barely concerned with the actual game of basketball — just with providing its viewers with an obscene amount of “hey, look at that!” references and gags to feast on. It’s only partially successful in that crucial element: keeping our interest. [Grade: C]
Rated: PG for some cartoon violence and some language