Twenty-five years after Michael Jordan was forced to play a high-stakes basketball game in space, the Tune Squad is back and this time with the King himself, LeBron James on their team.
Space Jam: A New Legacy is Nothing But Net
Space Jam: A New Legacy tells a fictionalized version of LeBron James’ life, complete with a fictionalized version of his real family. Sonequa Martin-Green plays Kamiyah, the fictional version of his wife Savannah, with Cedric Joe as his youngest Space Jam-verse son, Dom.
The film opens similarly to how Space Jam began, introducing the audience to a teenage LeBron James and laying the groundwork for his eventual journey into the Serververse. His coach convinces him to throw away his GameBoy, which was distracting him from basketball, establishing early on that he is singularly driven by basketball and not video games.
As an adult, LeBron is still solely focused on basketball, to the detriment of his relationship with his video game designer son Dom. But everything changes when a sinister and sentient algorithm, aptly named Al-G Rhythm lures LeBron and his son to the Warner Bros. lot. When the algorithm fails to pitch his new big idea to the basketball player, he changes tactics and lures the father-son duo down to the lower levels of the studio to where the servers are stored.
The pair get digitized and uploaded into the Warner Bros. server, where Al-G Rhythm essentially kidnaps LeBron’s son in order to make him play basketball. To win, LeBron has to put together a team of elite basketball players, otherwise, he and Dom will be trapped in the Serververse forever. While LeBron traverses through all of Warner Bros. most iconic IPs — finding the far-flung Looney Tunes serenading Ingrid Bergman at Rick’s Bar, on the run from the War Boys in Mad Max: Fury Road, and dodging bullets in the Matrix — Al-G Rhythm finds new ways to manipulate Dom against his father. After all, a video game-loving boy who is being forced to go to basketball camp over E3 game design camp, would be easy prey for a piece of sentient virtual technology.
I am notoriously easy to please when it comes to nostalgic movies aimed at children and I am also the biggest Warner Bros. nerd. While some reviewers may balk at the overuse of Warner Bro.’s IPs in the film, I was delighted with each cameo appearance. From LeBron James learning his Hogwarts house, to him and Bugs Bunny becoming caped crusaders above the streets of Metropolis, and Lola Bunny making a name for herself on Themyscira, I thought it all worked spectacularly well. My only disappointment was that I wasn’t pulled into the Warner Bros. Serververse too.
Admittedly, I am only familiar with Don Cheadle’s work in Marvel. I know he’s done a tremendous amount of work outside of the IP and I know I’ve seen a good portion of it, but I know that when someone mentions his name — I picture him standing beside Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War. I was wholly unprepared for him to be so delightfully good at being delightfully bad. Don Cheadle gives a truly memorable experience as the charming-yet-sinister algorithm. His timing and delivery are perfect and it is clear that he is having the time of his life with this role. I will be starting a petition for Cheadle to do more campy and comical villain roles because he nailed this one. Cheadle was not the only memorable performance.
When athletes take on acting roles, it’s never certain if they will be good, but LeBron James defies expectations. The majority of his performance has him working opposite literal cartoon characters and he sells it. I was as fully convinced that he was playing a video game-style basketball game alongside the cast of the Looney Tunes, as I was during his emotional heart-to-heart conversations with his son.
I was a kid when Space Jam first came out. A kid who loved basketball, Michael Jordan, and Saturday morning cartoons. I was the target audience. I rewatched it a dozen times as a child and I held onto the cherished memories associated with it. Ahead of seeing Space Jam: A New Legacy I rewatched it, now as an adult, and I loved it nearly as much as I did as a kid. Fresh off a nostalgia high, I walked into the theater afraid that a new legacy wouldn’t actually be born with LeBron James — but it was.
While Space Jam: A New Legacy is billed as a reboot of the beloved original film, in a lot of ways it feels like a continuation of the story. The Tune Squad hasn’t forgotten their time shooting hoops alongside Michael Jordan, Mr. Swackhammer’s minions appear, and the legacy is all still there, but it is a movie made for modern audiences.
Kids will love the fast-paced video game elements, while the parents will be trying to spot their favorite Warner Bros. characters in the crowd of the basketball game. Keep in mind that this movie is, in fact, a kid’s movie. The plot is straightforward, the dialogue is quippy and fun, and the stakes are not particularly high (though life or a digital death is at stake). The heart of the story is about being true to who you are, which is a lesson that transcends generations. It’s fun for the whole family, whether you’ve seen the original or not. You don’t have to be a fan of the Looney Tunes to enjoy the story.
Space Jam: A New Legacy preserves the magic of the first film, while creating something far bigger than the original. The father-son dynamic will warm the hearts of the audience, while the bright, showy colors and the fast-paced plot will keep them fully immersed in the Serververse. The 1990s were a simpler time, it was an era before we were glued to our phones, immersed in video games, and needing near-constant visual stimulation. In order to capture modern audiences, A New Legacy had to create a world that was filled with non-stop action, bright colors, dynamic cinematography, and a plot that made sense for a tech-obsessed world. In other words, this film understood the assignment.
And with all the talk about “family,” I started to wonder if Space Jam: A New Legacy is just a cleverly disguised part of the Fast & Furious franchise.
Space Jam: A New Legacy hits the court July 16th.