Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021) Movie Review

During the first scene of Space Jam: A New Legacy, I wondered if NBA superstar LeBron James would be boring to hang out with. He’s so hyper-focused on basketball and his legacy, I don’t know what I would talk to him about. All those playoff injuries? What weapons Bron needs to win another championship in L.A.? The stock market? I don’t know.


Soon after having this thought, I realized I had fallen right into LeBron’s carefully-placed trap. This was exactly what he wanted me to think, as his character’s fatal flaw in this reboot is that he is too focused on basketball to have any fun. While his son Dom (Cedric Joe) aspires to stimulate his creative impulses and design video games, LeBron wants him on a strict basketball practice diet.

It could be noted that this character premise is undercut almost instantly when LeBron finds himself a cartoon in the Warner Bros. “serververse” and immediately becomes a kid again, being starstruck at the sight of Bugs Bunny and giddy at the sight of a Harry Potter world. No one comes to Space Jam for consistency, I guess.

For reasons that are not particularly worth examining in any detail (fittingly, it mostly involves PR), LeBron and Dom are sucked into the serververse by a villainous algorithm (yep, it’s some real “it’s not 1996 anymore!” energy) by the name of Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle). In order to escape (and to ensure the continued safety and longevity of all Warners IP), LeBron and Bugs must assemble a rag-tag team of Tunes to compete in a basketball game.

Space Jam: A New Legacy is exactly what it says in the title. It is an opportunity for LeBron to secure his legacy in the G.O.A.T. debate—if Jordan could have his own movie co-starring Bugs Bunny, then so can I. It is a thinly-veiled PR campaign for a late-career LeBron James. One can’t blame LeBron for this move. It isn’t like Space Jam (1996) was something Michael Jordan made just for the craft of cinema. Jordan wouldn’t poke fun at his own short-lived baseball career if it wasn’t good PR for his own legacy.

LeBron’s role in this is only logical. Calculated, as much of his career appears to be. What is really egregious is that Space Jam: A New Legacy is also an elaborate PR scheme for Warner Bros. and, more specifically, HBO Max. The majority of the movie takes place inside of the Warner Bros. brand itself, not unlike how the Animaniacs live inside of the WB water tower. Unlike the Animaniacs, though, the brand-forward idea is less of a clever nod as it is an overt advertisement for everything HBO Max has on offer.

During a lengthy montage, Bugs and Bron traverse the serververse to find their basketball team, finding themselves in a number of WB films. The first reference is, admittedly, a fairly humorous spin on Mad Max: Fury Road. Each subsequent WB reference, though, is increasingly cloying and visibly an advertisement. I doubt it is a coincidence that the film references The Matrix multiple times; maybe it is due to the fact that a new Matrix film is being released this year…

Horrifically obvious commercialism aside, Space Jam: A New Legacy is a numbingly mediocre movie. The climactic basketball game—which starts about 70 minutes into the movie—has some mildly engaging visuals. But it is thuddingly unfunny. On the court, the closest thing to a functional joke involves Damian Lillard being faster than Roadrunner (that is not a tacit endorsement of a Dame-driven sequel—Space Jam: Tune Time, Dame Time: A Space Jam Story, Dame: From the Book of Space Jam. I could do this all day).

I don’t have much else to say about Space Jam: A New Legacy. There’s a hip-hop interlude where Porky Pig raps—that’s pretty bad. Throughout the basketball game, you can see on the courtside bad cosplay of characters from various WB properties (just in case you forgot that you can see all of this and more on HBO Max!).

If you eliminate the shameless advertising, the movie is about as good as Space Jam, which isn’t a huge endorsement. Space Jam is more of a nostalgia piece than anything else these days, and it doesn’t hold up too well. I don’t think Space Jam: A New Legacy holds up by present day standards, but I also suspect it will be nothing but a blip in LeBron’s legacy. A footnote. Yeah, that’s it. This movie is a footnote.

Space Jam: A New Legacy: D+

As always, thanks for reading!

—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)

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