Chasing Jordan’s Ghost
When a sequel for Space Jam was announced, it only made sense for Lebron James to be the star. After all, “King James” has been the face of the NBA for almost an entire generation of kids like Michael Jordan was in the 90’s. The debate over who is the greatest of all time between the two legends has raged on for years, but don’t look to the “Space Jam” franchise when comparing resumés.
Space Jam: A New Legacy follows Lebron James as he assembles a team to save his youngest son Dom (Joe). His son is entrapped in the Warner Bros. “Sever-Verse,” which is run by an A.I. system named Al-G-Rhythm (Cheadle).
Credit where credit is due; Lebron James is much better as a fictionalized version of himself than anticipated. It begins a little rocky, where James sounds like an NBA 2K “MyCareer” cutscene, but it really picks up for him once the movie takes its animated turn and we begin meeting the Looney Tunes squad.
The term “fun” is the best way of describing Don Cheadle’s performance as Al-G-Rhythm. It’s amazing that Cheadle can pivot so easily between a serious role such as his latest role in Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move and then his role in Space Jam: A New Legacy. Out of all the actors, Cheadle glows in every scene he is in, and the movie is just better with him.
The movie is at its best when either a.) Don Cheadle is on screen, or b.) when it utilizes its deep vault of Warner Bros. IP. Is it almost to the level of Ready Player One’s fan service and nostalgia? Sure. But why not have fun with a movie that features a server full of their franchises? The Seven Samurai-esque assembly of Lebron’s team as they dive into the “Server-Verse” is a rare moment where the movie is not a chore to watch. Who wouldn’t want to see Granny in The Matrix? Where the nostalgia runs its course is the actual basketball game. As you can see in the trailer, the crowd is filled with familiar faces. You can spot characters from Game of Thrones, IT, Danny DeVito’s Penguin, and even The Clockwork Orange squad. It teeters on being distracting since the focus is supposed to be on the basketball game, but it is hard not to try and spot every character that you recognize in the stands. Fellow NBA and WNBA stars Damien Lillard, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Sue Bird, Nneka Ogwumike, Aja Wilson, and even Lakers-teammate Anthony Davis among others join the ensemble. Their appearances don’t feel necessary though considering they are quickly turned into video game “upgraded” versions of themselves. I think the only lines Anthony Davis has are variants of “Move out of the way bird.” Klay Thompson’s “splash brother” gimmick was the only one noteworthy, but again, did you need them? Why not have Lebron’s squad face off with Godzilla and King Kong? So much missed potential when you have that vault that “Space Jam 2” showed to be more than willing to open for most of the movie. Yes, there is a basketball being played at the end, but it was going to be a video game anyways, why not push the envelope even further?
Is Space Jam: A New Generation a great movie? No, but that isn’t what it set out to be. No one expected a movie that would be in-competition at Cannes, and it is perfect for families who want to go out to the theaters and relax for two hours. It accomplishes its goal of bring the “Space Jam” franchise to a new generation (let’s be honest, the original hasn’t aged as gracefully as some would like to say), and this gives kids of the 2000s their version with the biggest athlete of their time.