'Space Jam: A New Legacy' Review Round-Up: Not So Much A Movie As A Two-Hour Ad For WB's Content Library

The first reviews for Space Jam: A New Legacy have arrived (we'll be publishing our own later this week), and unsurprisingly, they are not kind. The first movie worked like gangbusters for children in 1996, and that generation developed a nostalgic fondness for the original while adults rolled their eyes at its soulless, cash-grab nature. (It was based on a commercial, after all.) Decades later, it should not take anyone aback that critics are not thrilled that the sequel takes the plot even further into corporate synergistic territory, only this time with LeBron James at the center instead of Michael Jordan.

Here are some of the highlights from the first round of Space Jam 2 reviews.

Kate Erbland at Indiewire says that even though the film is aware of its own shortcomings, that doesn't excuse its laziness:

"The film's occasional self-reflexivity — early on, LeBron cracks that "athletes acting, that never goes well" — don't absolve Space Jam: A New Legacy for its many sins, most of them delivered in service to a profoundly unsettling idea of what makes people like movies."

A.A. Dowd from The A.V. Club did not appreciate how long it took for the Looney Tunes to get involved in the story:

"Space Jam: A New Legacy takes almost nothing but wrong turns, all leading to a glittering CGI trash heap of cameos, pat life lessons, and stale internet catchphrases. Its first misstep: keeping Bugs, Daffy, and the rest of the gang on the bench for about as long as it would take the audience to watch three and a half Merrie Melodies...In at least one respect, A New Legacy is successful: Even those who hated the first Space Jam may find themselves suddenly nostalgic for its comparably quaint charms."

Bilge Ebiri at Vulture points out that WB tries (and fails) to have its cake and eat it, too:

The bad guy's plan is pretty much the movie's plan: Embed LeBron James into a variety of Warner properties. Like most corporate cinematic endeavors, Space Jam: A New Legacy tries to have it both ways, proclaiming to be on the side of the angels while doing the work of the Devil. It criticizes shameless, money-grubbing attempts to synergize and update beloved classics (as LeBron himself puts it, "This idea is just straight-up bad") ... all the while shamelessly synergizing and updating beloved classics. Late in the film, when the 2-D Looney Tunes suddenly become three-dimensional and grow photorealistic fur, they express disgust at themselves.

Here's Ethan Vestby for The Film Stage:

A New Legacy fails to deliver on Who Framed Roger Rabbit-type spectacle, despite its exciting formal conceit of being able to weave between live-action and flat or CG animation. What felt like the twentieth sighting of Pennywise and the Penguin as extras cheering court-side during the climactic game exemplifies this film's lack of imagination in visualizing basketball, or rather its digital universe.

Germain Lussier at io9 digs into why one of the movie's primary relationships does not work:

Some of this might have been OK if the key friendship in the film between Bugs and James had some heart. It doesn't. On one hand, you have James, who is trying to put together a team to help free his son, and on the other, you have Bugs, who just wants to get his friends back together. The film makes it pretty clear Bugs is using James—who continues to call this out—but Bugs just keeps going. The dynamic is probably supposed to be funny, but it only creates an unsettling, unspoken disconnect between the leads, making the chances of them having any kind of real, formidable bond impossible.

Charles Bramesco at The Guardian was confounded by the randomness of the film's references:

The core issues of the film – its numbing swirls of rainbow light popping out every which way, the excruciating pop-culture catchphrases passed off as humor, LeBron's stilted, if game, acting, the half-assedness with which it delivers the dusty moral to be yourself, the fact that it is unaccountably one half-hour longer than its predecessor – all seem minor in comparison with the insidious ulterior intentions that power this fandom dynamo. Unlike Disney or Marvel, which can organize their vast reserves of IP under the logical umbrella of princesses or superheroes, there's no connecting order to the mashup extravaganza mounted via the Warner Bros aegis. Rick Blaine and Pennywise the Clown don't belong in the same reality, their only link being their contracted handlers. The younger viewers to whom this film has been ostensibly pitched will only be confused by the desperate effort to make a canon out of a brand.

The Hollywood Reporter's Frank Scheck writes:

The animation, consisting of both traditional 2D and CGI, is impressive, and there's certainly a lot of it. But it never feels as joyful as you'd hope, too often coming across like corporate machination than inspired imagination. That becomes particularly apparent when the classic Looney Tune characters are eventually rendered in CGI form, which just feels wrong.

Joshua Rivera from Polygon sees this as a bone-chilling sign of things to come:

Space Jam: A New Legacy isn't really a movie — it's a crash course in vertical integration and brand identity, a marketing slideshow with a two-hour running time. Its viewers are taken on a whirlwind tour through every Warner IP geared toward every demographic: Wonder Woman's Themyscira for girls and women, The Matrix for older men, Harry Potter for Old Millennials who haven't been reading the news much, and so forth. This is how Hollywood works now. This is the future of blockbuster movies.

The only somewhat positive take I could find from a mainstream critic was Amy Nicholson in Variety, who writes:

"Space Jam: A New Legacy is chaotic, rainbow sprinkle-colored nonsense that, unlike the original, manages to hold together as a movie...Warner Bros.' hellbent fixation on smashing its own characters together (see also: Ready Player One and the Lego franchise) feels like the endgame of a Hollywood that has become more focused on intellectual property rights than innovation. That's the sour take. The bittersweet counterargument is that Lee's massive sandbox allows him to seed curiosity about cinema history in kiddie audiences who've just come for the slapstick. It won't mean a thing to today's 11-year-old that Lee insists on giving courtside seats to a cheerleader version of Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? But someday it might — and until then, it's nice to see any modern blockbuster welcome a cult film to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Joker. (Make that two Jokers, one in the classic purple suit and the other in Joaquin Phoenix's flaming red.)"

Space Jam: A New Legacy arrives in theaters and on HBO Max on July 16, 2021.