Space Jam: A New Legacy Review: Okay, So Some Nostalgia IS Bad
At 16 years old, I was a little too old to love Space Jam as much as some of my younger contemporaries. Yet, I know enough people who truly love this ridiculous movie that I sort of love it too, if only because their enjoyment was infections. (Also, that soundtrack featured all bangers.) If rumors are to be believed the sequel to Space Jam has been in the works since 1996, though nothing ever materialized. Thus, Space Jam: A New Legacy is meant to be a film that is both heavy on nostalgia and an introduction of the concept to a new generation. This already was a premise doomed to fail, but the addition of nearly every intellectual property Warner Bros. owns helps make the attempt itself feel soulless.
Now, all I can speak on with any sort of authority is the nostalgia side of things. This movie wasn’t made for people who wanted more Space Jam in 1996 primarily, I think. Sure, they reference a lot of adult things like Game of Thrones, but that’s not new. The Looney Tunes always referenced adult pop culture, back to when what was popular were radio shows like Fibber McGee and Molly or Al Pearce and His Gang. No, this feels like a movie that the filmmakers wanted to be something special to the kids who will grow up with it. And, whether or not they succeeded in that respect is up to those kids to decide in about ten years. However, for those of us who lived through the first Space Jam, this film feels like a retread that lacks the heart of the original.
Nostalgia Doesn’t Work Because They Barely Reference the Original Space Jam
Image via Warner Bros. Animation
Despite two oblique references from Bugs and Daffy respectively, the fact that the Looney Tunes once played a basketball game with Michael Jordan against aliens is never once mentioned. There is a moment where the former Best Basketball Player Alive™ is mentioned, but it is in the service of a gag. (Hey, it’s Looney Tunes after all.) Yet, in refusing to acknowledge the existence of the first film, it disconnects the story from nostalgia. Say what you will about the Star Wars sequels, but any fan who saw Chewie and Han Solo board the Millennium Falcon and say “we’re home,” felt that a little. That’s the easy trick with nostalgia. Take the same folks, put them in the same place, and it just happens naturally.
In this case, the storytellers took the plot of the old film, made it super-convoluted with an internet twist and in doing so excised a part of the whimsy of the thing. What bums me out about this is that there are some good gags and good concepts in here, but they just don’t work as is. For example, I laughed out loud (and heartily) at the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote in Mad Max Fury Road and Granny and Speedy Gonzales in The Matrix. This strange but workable for this kind of thing concept of the “Serververse” is not bad. Like it or not, Warner Bros. has the rights to so many iconic characters and worlds, that it makes sense they’d try to get mileage out of that with Bugs and his pals. I mean, these moments feel like what I expect Disney wanted the Simpsons short The Good, the Bad, and the Loki to feel like.
But this is Space Jam. There’s two requirements for that kind of movie, a “jam” (in this case, playing basketball) and space. What we get is a digital space that doesn’t make sense.
Where Space Jam: A New Legacy Falls Short Is Its Story
Image via Warner Bros. Animation
There are two major reasons why I think the Space Jam: A New Legacy story falls short, even compared to the original, and it has nothing to do with nostalgia. Simply put, this story doesn’t know what it wants to be. The central conflict between the two main human characters, Lebron James and his son Dom, played by Cedric Joe, is one that even the movie can’t really decide which side its on.
The speech given by Don Cheadle’s villain about sports is no different, other than in tone, than the speech Wood Harris’ unnamed coach gives a young LeBron at the opening of the movie. I don’t think they are trying to say that LeBron’s coach was a villain, but maybe they are? Also, this movie criminally under utilized Sonequa Martin-Green, reducing her role to a series of “Mom” catchphrases. Joe and even James show real potential as actors, but this film just wastes it all. (Though, Don Cheadle does carry much of the movie with his scenery-chewing, mustache-twirling hamming it up.)
Of course, the biggest mistake is that the film forgets what it’s supposed to be. The original Space Jam had a ridiculous premise, too. Yet it worked because the story was centered on the Looney Tunes. We don’t even see Bugs Bunny until the 26-minute mark in the movie, and when we meet him, he’s in a sad and tragic place. By centering the movie on LeBron, the Looney Tunes feel like guest stars in their own movie.
Leave Nostalgia at the Door, and Maybe You Can Enjoy This Movie
Image via Warner Bros. Animation
If nostalgia for the original Space Jam is what draws you to A New Legacy you will be disappointed. If seeing the Looney Tunes in action again is what draws you to this movie, you will also be disappointed. As I said above, the kids who grow up with this film may latch onto it like my generation did with the original. However, this movie feels like a bit of a mess with a few decent premises shoved into a bucket to small to contain them all. Had they just made a kind of Warner Bros. promotional film or series, focused on the idea of the “serververse” and put the Looney Tunes into various Warner Bros. properties, that could be fun. The best gags in the film come from this.
The idea of a driven sports god being forced to embrace “fun” and “looniness” to win a high-stakes game can work. The first film proved that. Yet, because the story is overly-convoluted and our focus is not on the Toons, the emotional climaxes of the film fall flat. There are charming moments. Don Cheadle looks like he’s having fun, even though it seems like he filmed most of his scenes on an empty green screen soundstage. The Looney Tunes are always what they are, and there were plenty of moments where (sometimes in spite of myself) they made me laugh. So, even though this film may likely win the box office on its opening weekend, it probably does not have the staying power that the original did.
Space Jam: A New Legacy is currently streaming on HBO Max and in theaters.
What do you think? Did this movie give you nostalgia for the old Space Jam or were you able to enjoy it on its own? Share your own reviews in the comments below.
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book of superhero short stories, Tales of Adventure & Fantasy: Book One is available as an ebook or paperback from Amazon.