Nostalgia is a funny thing. Perfectly rational people adore mediocre music, television and film for the sole reason that it was popular when they were young. There’s nothing inherently wrong with holding fondness for bad movies — say, Michael Jordan’s Space Jam — that you enjoyed as a child, cultural touchstones like these shape people as they grow up. The danger posed by nostalgia lies in what mega-corporations will wield it for to make a buck.
Nobody was clamoring for a reboot of Space Jam. Although remembered fondly by sport inclined millennials, the film is widely regarded as silly, incoherent and altogether not good. Regardless, those millennials who were mesmerized as tykes by MJ and a cacophony of Loony Tunes balling out are now the ones buying movie tickets. Warner Brothers is ready to take their money and weaponize that nostalgia to sell more Warner Brothers.
Space Jam: A New Legacy, at it’s surface is exactly that, Space Jam 25 years later with the new era defining basketball player: LeBron James. James plays a fictionalized version of himself that has forgotten the sport he loves is supposed to be fun. James pushes his sons relentlessly to be the best players they can be but can’t see that his son Dom (Cedric Joe) just wants to design video games.
Meanwhile, at the Warner Studios — five words that encapsulate the soullessness of this film — deep within their servers, an algorithm named Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle) is formulating a plot to optimize the Warner properties and up engagement. He decides that the answer is to recruit James as a brand ambassador, digitizing his image and inserting him into various upcoming films. When James declines, Al G. forces his hand by kidnapping Dom and forcing James to a game of hoops for his son back.
Ghoulish as that may sound from a conceptual level, placing the stakes onto an actual human character and setting up the plot early on is enough to make Space Jam: A New Legacy more coherently a movie than its predecessor. That’s not saying much though and LeBron’s proceeding journey through the Warner “serververse” is as spirit crushing as anything released in years.
Tasked with forming a team to take on Al G., James must venture through an hourlong sizzle reel of existing Warner properties. He and Bugs Bunny find Daffy cosplaying as Superman in DC World, Roadrunner and Wile E Coyote speeding through the background of Mad Max Fury Road, and — in the films most egregiously bleak moment — Yosemite Sam playing the piano in Rick’s American Cafe.
The entirety of Space Jam: A New Legacy’s second act is spent like this. A parade of lifeless cameos and reminders that HBO Max exists and that you should subscribe. Warner payed LeBron millions of dollars to film a two hour commercial for their streaming service, then dropped it onto that same streaming service. Just as Al G. Rhythm intended.
This year, like most in recent decades, has seen a number of sequels and reboots litter the calendar. While Disney’s Cruella and Amazon’s Coming 2 America are clearly nothing more than callous cash grabs, nothing can come close to the cold calculation of this Space Jam reboot. Step aside King James, it’s he who owns the IP that truly wear’s the crown. 2/10