Malcolm D. Lee’s “Space Jam: A New Legacy”: Film Review

The original Space Jam, released in 1996, was designed to reestablish Michael Jordan’s legend status after a two year hiatus from the NBA. While the Looney Tunes are present in the film, Jordan is essentially presented as a savior figure to basketball, as his efforts on the court restored the abilities of his superstar colleagues and brought back order to a chaotic NBA. The film encapsulated Michael Jordan’s key mission in life: To be the greatest athlete to ever step onto the court.

Nearly twenty-five years later, Space Jam: A New Legacy also captures the primary drive of its NBA leading star, Lebron James. James has expressed numerous times how his dream is to professionally play on the court with his son, Bronny James. Malcolm D. Lee’s feature turns that desire into a cinematic reality, as King James goes toe to toe with his on-screen son, Dom James (Cedric Joe).

While Lebron James is the same caliber of actor as Michael Jordan, this dream realized on the silver screen brings a sincerity to his performance that Jordan lacked in the original feature. Additionally, Lee makes James come across as incredibly serious and unlikeable in the first third of the film, which the NBA superstar never fails to deliver on. While many public figures on his scale would refuse to be depicted in any kind of negative light, James appears to have enough humility to show an audience his faults along with his strengths. The fact that Dom plays a more significant role in the third act than James shows that the King’s humility and his belief the next generation to be “The New Legacy” of the sport.

The New Legacy subtitle could be considered a motif for the entire film, as Lee gives a new lease on life to the Looney Tunes. When the original Space Jam released in 1996, the Tunes had significant recognition to the extent that the characters were used to bolster Michael Jordan’s star power. In the decades since that film’s release though, the Tunes have failed to maintain their fame, with only a underperforming blockbuster (Looney Tunes: Back in Action) and several failed television shows to their name.

It seems fitting then that Lee essentially breaks out the entire Warner Brothers’ filmography in order to revitalize the Looney Tunes’ image. While it sadly demonstrates that the Tunes can no longer carry a film by themselves financially, the WB franchise cameos are simply window dressings to the meat and potatoes of Lebron James and the Looney Tunes.

Specifically, there’s a moment in the third act where Bugs and the gang finally get a chance to be their looney selves, which is bound to put a smile on the faces of old fans and newcomers to the characters alike. While Space Jam: A New Legacy may not be targeted at those who grew up with the original Space Jam, Lee has crafted a feature that will hopefully restore the Looney Tunes back to their superstar status in the eyes of the next generation, just like the how the characters helped Michael Jordan all those years ago.

The Silver Lining

No one in the cast of Space Jam: A New Legacy is having more fun than Don Cheadle playing an antagonistic algorithm, Al-G Rhythm. His outbursts throughout the film are hilarious and very out of character for the actor. It’s a complete 180 from his last HBO Max film, Steven Soderbergh’s heist noir, No Sudden Move. If you are watching Space Jam: A New Legacy on HBO Max, be sure to add No Sudden Move to your watchlist pronto!

Don Cheadle hamming it up as Al-G Rhythm

Space Jam: A New Legacy is now available on HBO Max (Ad Free Subscription) and at a theater near you!

2 thoughts on “Malcolm D. Lee’s “Space Jam: A New Legacy”: Film Review

  1. I never saw the original Space Jam – not sure how I missed it. Watched A New Legacy yesterday with the kids I babysit— and it was entertaining but felt a lot like a huge Warner Brothers commercial for all of their properties. I do love the point of LeBron not being afraid to be portrayed as someone unlikable— oftentimes people at that level of fame and his position would shudder at being looked at in a negative light / anything other than “the Greatest”. Great review!

    1. While I try to be a little more optimistic about the inclusion of all those properties, I completely get the read that the film plays out like a commercial for Warner Brothers/HBO Max. Thank you for your comment! 🙂

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