‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ Puts Black Joy on Full Display

The reviews for LeBron James’ and SpringHill Entertainment’s Space Jam: A New Legacy are rolling in and they paint a considerably dismal picture of the imagination critics go to the movies with today. For some context, Steven Spielberg’s 2018 IP extravaganza Ready Player One sits with a decent aggregate rating of 72% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, particularly because of the way the film sets up its action sequences and because it is a Spielberg flick. A New Legacy, however, is already down to 32% from critics and that’s mainly because there are “too many IPs,” and the film doesn’t make algorithms function the way they should in the real world.

Space Jam: A New Legacy' reviews: Here's what critics think

While Ready Player One could only be held to the standard of Ernest Cline’s original novel the film is based on, A New Legacy is inextricably caught in the shadow of the 1996 classic that starred the greatest basketball player ever, Michael Jordan. The plotline isn’t perfect, and the presence of Warner Bros. Pictures intellectual property is copious, but what A New Legacy gets right shines through. LeBron James is the overachieving father, holding his youngest son to impractical and unattainable standards because he thinks he is not working hard enough (surprise, they are the standards of a legendary parent-athlete). His son, Dom James (played by the charming Cedric Joe), is a tech wizard, creating his own video game on his down time while begrudgingly obliging the demands of his father.

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The “father learns to support his son” narrative arc is predictable yet nostalgic, the chemistry between LeBron and Cedric is believable, and the entertainment level is dialed up to one thousand. What registered most was the pure display of Black joy throughout the film. Dom is gleeful in every scene where he is interacting with or patching his game, Khris Davis (who plays LeBron’s friend, Malik) is an emotional wreck throughout (spoiler: he’s partly responsible for “losing” LeBron and his son to the Serververse) and is unflinchingly hilarious, and LeBron shows off acting chops that put him head and shoulders above countless other athlete actors.

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When I saw the original Space Jam in elementary school, I went back to the playground wanting to be Bugs Bunny or Michael Jordan. After watching A New Legacy, all I wanted was to rewatch the film with our family, rekindling the joys of movie nights we had years ago. The quirks and pitfalls of a film ought to be critiqued but the cultural lens we use to understand it account for so much more.

This is a Black film about family, joy, expectations, and parenthood. It’s also a film with a loose narrative structure and periodic overreliance on intellectual property, but it makes up for it through the organic chemistry between family members, and it happens to star one of pop culture’s most influential and globally recognized sports figures in recent history.

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Space Jam: A New Legacy is not SpringHill Entertainment’s magnum opus. Yes, it takes creative liberties that sometime ask us to do more than just suspend disbelief, and that is okay. Ultimately, it resonates on a cultural level in ways the original hadn’t and puts Black joy on full display, and as a result requires us to view its content beyond our own worldview for a few moments.

It’s too exhausting a year to take ourselves so seriously that we immediately checkout because Don Cheadle’s “Al G. Rhythm” doesn’t strictly adhere to the nature of an actual algorithm. Cheadle’s role as bad guy turned worse is genuinely complemented by his acting style and fits the overall “looney” aesthetic of a Looney Tunes film. My only regret was not being in the same room as my own family when we clicked on Space Jam: A New Legacy and pressed play.

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