The indelible image of Michael Jordan becoming Mr. Fantastic left an impression a generation of six-year-old boys. For some, it was another mountain conquered by MJ, who was about to steamroll the league with a second three-peat. Others found meta-comedy for the first time, watching stars and cartoons make fun of themselves ad nauseum. Space Jam was an instant classic for many, and while a re-examination does reveal flaws, it’s effects on popular culture were instantaneous.
Sadly, Space Jam: A New Legacy does very little to revive the franchise. Picking up twenty-five years after the original film, the LeBron James-led film valiantly strives for more heart than its predecessor. This helps keep the stakes of the film interesting, and allows for its characters to grow. However, a litany of issues arise over the course of the film. Rough CG animation, a frustratingly uncharismatic performance from LeBron, and perhaps worst of all, an unfunny script, leave the audience grasping for straws.
We see the young LeBron struggle in high pressure situations, and is chewed out for a lack of focus by his coach. Decades later, LeBron is a household name and enjoys the life he’s made because of his basketball prowess. His son Dom (Cedric Joe) feels distant from his father, and retreats into programming video games. When an evil computer program, Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle), is offended by LeBron, he kidnaps the superstar and his son. To get his son back, LeBron must team up with the Looney Tunes to take on the Goon Squad.
Malcolm D. Lee attempts to keep the wild caravan on track, and the emotional core of his film pays off several times. However, the avalanche of Warner Brothers content that populates will surprise even the most cynical of viewers. Dozens of films and shows are pulled into the film, from Rick and Morty to Mad Max Fury Road. While some sequences are more effectively built than others, it is impossible to ignore the cash grab intentions coursing through A New Legacy‘s veins. While Lee may have taken the project with good intentions, this freight train is off the rails from the word go.
Perhaps the most frustrating element of the film is its methods of animation. The 2D Looney Tunes are rather fun, and explore more interesting visual ideas. Plopping Yosemite Sam in Casablanca or turning Wile E. Coyote into a War Boy (seriously) yields most of the films laughs. However, when the Tunes are zapped into a third dimension, they ironically become more basic. Gone is the zaniness of the Looney Tunes portraying Pulp Fiction or riding mopeds on the court.
LeBron also tricked us into believing he could carry a film on his acting chops. It turns out that his very funny turn in Trainwreck might have been Actor Lebron’s peak. He often feels out of place trying to sell jokes that aren’t working. Perhaps no sequence is more egregious than a rap battle between Damian Lillard’s Chronos and that of Porky Pig. His rap pseudonym is offensive on many levels, and LeBron must sell the sequence as if the rap was not the worst thing on any screen in 2021.
The Goon Squad, consisting of Lillard, Anthony Davis, Diana Taurasi, Nneka Ogwumike, and Klay Thompson, is horribly animated. It’s odd that LeBron consistently trashes Davis during the game (the two are teammates in real life), but the animated monster he portrays is impossible to ignore. Not only is “The Brow” (his real life nick-name) boring to watch on screen, but it bears little resemblance to how we talk about Davis as a player.
Perhaps the most frustrating piece of the film is the mythologizing about LeBron. As the producer of the film, LeBron is both in on the jokes they tell, and he’s in on the praises ringing throughout the film. In case you did not know this already, but LeBron’s Cavaliers came back from a 3 to 1 deficient to win the championship. If you didn’t, you’ll hear the fact repeated approximately 20 times. It’s clear that LeBron wants people to love him, and many many people do. Yet the image of LeBron as an icon almost always comes at someone else’s expense.
Despite the clear problems with the structure of the film, the first hour is rather entertaining. Cheadle clearly gets the tone of the film, and seems to be the only one prepared to meet it’s lunacy. His modulation in tone and performance creates a hybrid of Tron’s MCP and The Mitchells vs. the Machines‘ PAL. He channels jealousy well (perhaps too well for a robot), but he steals the movie whenever he appears.
The emotional core of the film, a father realizing he is giving his children the life he wished he could have, was one that took too much time to develop. However, the final execution works when its time to deliver. Much of this credit should go to Joe, who is surprisingly the most lovable character in the film. Despite the film’s ending passing up and emotional moment five feet from the basket, the connection we make with Dom and LeBron is worth exploring.
Space Jam: A New Legacy it not an instant classic, and it misses the marks of being a great studio comedy. At the same time, A New Legacy is not a disastrous film that many will claim in the coming weeks. Instead, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The film is not only mediocre, but misses too many chances to be something truly special.
Score — 1.5/4
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