‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ Review Roundup: Warner Bros. Tooniverse Fails To Charm
Space Jam: A New Legacy lands in theaters and on HBO Max tomorrow. Warner Bros. itself has described the film as “manic”; critics concur. Whether they think that’s a good thing is another matter.
In its concept, the sequel resembles the 1996 original. There’s basketball, Looney Tunes, and a comedic sensibility, but the details are different: bye bye Michael Jordan, hello LeBron James and evil AI humanoids. James — who plays a version of himself — and his onscreen son Dom (Cedric Joe) are sucked into a digital world inhabited by a rogue digital humanoid (Don Cheadle). Needless to say, things culminate in a basketball game.
Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip, Night School) directs, having replaced Terence Nance, who left in 2019 over creative differences with the producers. The screenplay is by Juel Taylor, Tony Rettenmaier, Keenan Coogler, and Terence Nance.
The producers are Ryan Coogler, LeBron James, Maverick Carter, and Duncan Henderson, and the executive producers are Sev Ohanian, Zinzi Coogler, Allison Abbate, Jesse Ehrman, Jamal Henderson, Spencer Beighley, Justin Lin, Terence Nance, and Ivan Reitman. The 2d animation producer is Troy Nethercott.
Reviews of A New Legacy are averaging out at mixed to poor, the film currently registering a 42% critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes. Reviewers’ top gripe: the frantic mashup of studio characters and properties.
Charles Bramesco gives A New Legacy one star out of five in The Guardian, slamming its chaotic remix of studio properties:
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.
Nell Minow rates the film more highly than most critics, awarding it three stars out of four on RogerEbert.com:
[D]irector Malcolm Lee balances the action, the family dynamics, and the Looney Tunes silliness very well, recognizing that it’s the longing of a father and son for a better way to connect (while appreciating their individuality) that’s the heart of the storyline. This is an improvement over the original film, which was pretty much an elevator pitch with slam dunks.
Comparing A New Legacy favorably with the original, Variety’s Amy Nicholson sees both upsides and downsides to the sequel’s orgy of IP:
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.
Though mostly critical of the film, Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri applauds its riffs on classic cartoon comedy:
LeBron’s arrival in Toonland may be the film’s most entertaining passage, as he transforms into an old-fashioned, 2d-animated version of himself and promptly begins to do Looney Tunes things like falling off cliffs and crashing to the ground as a disembodied, bouncing basketball head that then must be pumped by Bugs back into its full human shape. Such psychedelic slapstick retains the ability to surprise.
Frank Scheck admires the animation — but not the way it is used — in his review for The Hollywood Reporter:
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 as corporate machination rather than inspired imagination. That becomes particularly apparent when the classic Looney Tune characters are eventually rendered in cgi form, which just feels wrong.