Space Jam: A New Legacy
The sequel to the Michael Jordan hit is a shameless Warner Bros. commercial
The battle for IP and mining viewers’ nostalgia is reaching worrying heights. Creativity and originality are at stake for easy profits. A balance can be achieved to please corporate overlords and crafting an original and intriguing story. However, once in a while a film is completely swept up in corporate direction and greed, who seek to throw all their IP and franchise muscle on screen (ahem Ready Player One (2018) ahem). The new Space Jam film unfortunately follows this route.
Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021) is the sequel to the bad yet surprisingly beloved Michael Jordan film Space Jam (1996). MJ doesn’t appear in this film, however, instead we follow NBA superstar LeBron James (playing a version of himself) as he and his son Dom (Cedric Joe) get sucked into the Warner Bros. computer servers by an evil AI named Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle). Al G challenges LeBron to a basketball game in order to be freed and save his son; thus Lebron teams up with the Looney Toons, as MJ did, in order to face Al G’s challenge.
James impressed many viewers with his succinct and short performance in the comedy Trainwreck (2015), where he showed a certain comfort in front of the camera. This makes for a much more watchable performance in Space Jam: A New Legacy than Jordan’s wooden one in the first film. However, to make a jump from funny cameo in an Amy Schumer film to carrying an entire $150 million film alone is a big ask. LeBron suffers heavily from lacking acting depth and onscreen charisma to make you root for his character. Director Malcolm D. Lee (seeing a resurgence in his directing career after hit Girls Trip (2017)), tries to mitigate the pressure on his star by placing him in animated form for nearly half the film; this helps with LeBron’s expressionism and allows him to focus simply on voice acting, however, the live action portions, that are key to the films emotional core, fall flat.
Lee seems to have been completely engulfed by the studio system with Space Jam: A New Legacy. Original director Terence Nance left with a few days before production started due to “creative differences,” which always spells conflict with a strict studio. As such, Lee isn’t able to show much flair or direction in his film, instead relying on throwing as much money into visual effects and animation as he can and crafting as many references to other Warner Bros. properties as possible. The animation, with such a huge budget, is pretty impressive, from the 2D animation of the Looney Toons to the later 3-D versions of themselves for the film’s climax. However, it is in the self-congratulation of Warner Bros.’ other properties that this film truly becomes unwatchable.
Space Jam: A New Legacy starts out as a near remake of the first film, with an added story of father-son conflict in the middle. However, these nuances are soon forgotten and even villain Al G. is swept to the side in favor for a Warner Bros. self-promotion commercial. There is a never-ending barrage of references towards the likes of Harry Potter, The Matrix, DC superheroes, etc. that are so ridiculously presented that it approaches mindless satires. This extends to the promotion of LeBron himself, with references to his partnership with Nike, and nudges and winks to LeBron’s career. As such there is no room for working character development, plot, or even mining the nostalgia of the Looney Toons. You’re simply overwhelmed with everything Warner Bros. throws onto the screen as they desperately try and keep your attention and interest. The narrative is so poorly worked on that it begins to poke plot holes almost intentionally, leading viewers to bury their face in their hands rather than watch more.
In the end, Space Jam: A New Legacy is an example of the problems of studio and corporate greed in Hollywood. It is a shameful use of self-promotion with not an ounce of creative or original thought. Lee and LeBron have been in better projects before, and one can only hope that this mistake can make them reflect on their future career choices.