'Space Jam: A New Legacy' Spoiler Review: There's A Perfectly Decent Movie Buried In Here, Somewhere

Here's the thing: I tried with all of my might to give Space Jam: A New Legacy a fair shake.

I was a nine-year-old obsessed with both Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes when the first Space Jam came out, and I loved it. I wanted to give the new sequel, starring LeBron James and directed by Malcom D. Lee, at least as much of a chance as I would have as a kid. It's easy to be cynical and simply hate on things we find childish or silly, so I tried to abandon that.

Unfortunately, Space Jam: A New Legacy is so full of egregious IP-grabbing that there are moments where the movie truly begins to feel like a Warner Bros. edition of Where's Waldo with a pulse. In order to have a pulse, though, one would need a heart, and that's sorely lacking throughout A New Legacy. Some much of it is crass commercialism and lowest-common-denominator "remember when" nostalgia turned up to a point beyond parody. There are moments where you can see a Space Jam sequel that would have totally worked, but instead WB took the lazy route.

If you somehow haven't already made up your mind about whether or not to check out Space Jam: A New Legacy, we have a review for that. This one, however, is getting into the nitty gritty of why Space Jam: A New Legacy signals a terrifying direction in storytelling.

The rest of this review contains major spoilers for Space Jam: A New Legacy.

It's Perfectly Fine on its Own...

If you remove the rampant IP-borrowing, Space Jam: A New Legacy is alright. It's not a masterpiece by any means, but it's a perfectly serviceable kids' flick. There's some family-positive messaging about the bonds between father and son, it's paced fast enough to keep kids' attention, and it's bright and colorful. In many ways, it feels like a completely worthy successor to the original Space JamA lot of people my age tend to put the original on a pedestal, but without the lens of nostalgia, it's easy to see both films as the simple cash-grabs they are. And that's fine. Sometimes movies are allowed to just be shiny silly junk that distracts us from reality for two hours.

When it's just being silly colorful nonsense, A New Legacy is unremarkable, but harmless enough. The animation is pretty basic, the score and soundtrack are your typical jock jams, and the humor is about what you'd expect. There's a couple of performer cameos, including Sarah SilvermanMichael B. JordanSteven Yeun, Lil Rel Howery, and sportscaster Ernie Johnson. The cameos are, like everything else outside of the IP-swiping, just fine. Howery stands out, playing himself after he gets sucked into the WB Universe as an announcer for the basketball game between James and the Goon Squad. If the dude could host the most awkward Oscars pre-show ever, he can certainly hold his own announcing the nonsense that happens in this basketball game. Oh, and the ever-reliable Don Cheadle is absolutely great as the villain, a rogue AI who controls the WB Universe.

There are moments of fun scattered throughout the movie, and I can see quite a few more that would have tickled me in my less cynical years. I can imagine kids who love video games and LeBron James and Looney Tunes absolutely eating this up. It's important to remember the audience here, and as a kids' movie, Space Jam: A New Legacy works.

The problem is what they put in there for adults.

...Until it Becomes a Parade of IP

The trailers for A New Legacy promised the Looney Tunes gang hopping through famous WB films, much to my horror. There's something mildly disturbing about seeing Granny dressed in a black vinyl catsuit doing the Trinity kick in The Matrix. Thankfully, the franchise-hopping section of A New Legacy is shorter than I expected it would be. Unfortunately, they go into some classic films that I thought were beyond touching.

When James lands in Tuneworld and finds it empty, Bugs Bunny explains to him that the other cartoons have gone off to find relevance elsewhere. That might be a commentary on the relevance of the Looney Tunes in 2021, except that the movie contradicts itself by constantly making the Tunes second fiddle in their own movie. James and Bugs then go on a tour of several of the "worlds" inside this digital hellscape, grabbing Foghorn Leghorn from Game of Thrones world, Daffy Duck from the Superman animated series world, and more. It's pretty pandering, especially when Rick and Morty fly in on their spaceship and drop off the Tasmanian Devil, telling James "He's your problem now."

All of these feel a little crass, but they're not criminal. Seeing Yosemite Sam seated at the piano in Casablanca, however, made my stomach turn over. Casablanca is more than a classic film; it's the incredible work of refugee artists telling their story during one of the world's most horrific wars. Casablanca isn't a piece of media just to be consumed and remixed, it's a piece of history. The people in the film aren't alive to speak out against this, and even if they could, it doesn't matter because WB owns everything.

The Looney Tunes have always inserted themselves in other properties and riffed endlessly on whatever's popular. There are entire DVD collections of Looney Tunes parodies, including such titles as "The Duxorcist," "Invasion of the Bunny Snatchers," and "Hare and Loathing in Las Vegas." What's different between those parodies and this random grab-bag of property appearances is that, well, there's not really any parody here. The Looney Tunes aren't riffing on the properties they're in – they're just replacing the original characters. There's a big difference between making a spoof of something popular and simply referencing something popular, and this is entirely the latter. It's the South Park episode about 'memberberries stretched to two hours and without a hint of self-awareness.

When we eventually get to the big basketball game, Cheadle's Al G. Rhythm summons a crowd to root for his Goon Squad. He claims to summon goons from all of the other WB properties, but there's quite a few good guys in the mix too. He then proceeds to insert an entire crowd of extras in from the Warner Brothers catalogue, bouncing around behind him with wild glee. I understand including characters that kids will appreciate, but there's no reason to have the droogs from A Clockwork Orange or the nun from The DevilsThis feels like a weird flex by WB to remind us that they own everything and they can do what they want with it. What feels like an inside joke by the production team ends up feeling...weird. And not a good weird.

A Dearth of Creativity

There are plenty of things to complain about in A New Legacy that just feel like petty nitpicks. James' acting ranges from bad to worse, and his voice-over quality occasionally sounds like a 3:00 A.M. Skype call. Bugs Bunny meme "Big Chungus" actually makes an onscreen appearance. The 3D versions of the Looney Tunes are the stuff of nightmares. These things don't really matter, though, when you're a kid and your sports hero makes a movie with your favorite cartoons. So I'm not here to pick at those things, but instead to think about what Space Jam: A New Legacy might have been.

There's a decent movie buried in here, at least as decent as the original Space Jam. Replace the "traipsing through live-action movies" sections with some more cartoon-hopping and come up with some wild new characters to fill out your crowd instead of leaning on cameos from random WB movie properties, and this review would have read very differently. Retreading old ground is the least creative option, but one that is becoming more and more common in popular entertainment. "Hey remember this?" has replaced coming up with new ideas, and it's just so disappointing. There's a lot of potential in Space Jam: A New Legacy, but it really just feels like a movie studio trying to remind us just how much of our nostalgia they own.

When asked about scanning himself into the computer and joining all of the other IPs in the Warner Bros Universe, James shakes his head and gives a firm response.

"This idea's just straight-up bad," he says. If only the people behind the cameras had listened.