The reviews are in! Space Jam: A New Legacy is no Casablanca — although LeBron James does end up in the world of Casablanca. Professional film critics are lukewarm on the sequel to the Michael Jordan classic, which also serves as a blatant attempt to create an interconnected universe of Warner Bros. IP.
Just quickly here, the plot of the movie is that Academy Award winner Don Cheadle (playing a vengeful algorithm named Al G. Rhythm) has come up with a SeinfeldVision-esque plan to insert Lebron James into different Warner Bros. properties. When James calls that “among the worst ideas I’ve ever heard,” Cheadle kidnaps James’ son and forces James to make his way through different Warner Bros. properties to assemble a basketball team that will defeat Cheadle’s.
Over at The Washington Post, Kristen Page-Kirby says the film “rises above mediocrity often enough to keep adult audiences engaged, and kids from squirming.” Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri says, “It fills a two-hour hole in the schedule, which will keep parents happy, and it brandishes the brand, which will keep shareholders happy.” Glenn Kenny for The New York Times says that “there’s a nearly astute satire of the app-driven life bubbling under the meta high jinks.” (Manohla Dargis is suspiciously silent.)
However, on the cinephile social network Letterboxd, you would have thought someone blew up Isabelle Huppert’s chateau. This is the death of film, apparently. “A revolting regurgitation of beloved franchises with their hearts ripped out and stomped on by a self-obsessed studio and star sucking each other off,” one user wrote in their half-star review. “Too drunk to write anything movies are dead if you like this you are a BAD PERSON,” wrote another user, also giving the movie half a star.
The film currently has a 31% rating on Rotten Tomatoes — with an 88% audience score, the people like it! — and a 2.1 average rating on Letterboxd. Comparatively, Black Widow, the latest entry in Marvel’s cinematic universe, is certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes at 81% with an average of 3.5 stars on Letterboxd.
It seems that Warner Bros.’ misstep was not creating a new chapter in the Space Jam universe per se, but rather that they did not spend the 25 years between the first movie and the second one laying the groundwork for all of its intellectual property to come together in one big, overly long movie where people go back through their own movies and one of the main characters martyrs himself at the end.
In order for an IP play of this magnitude to work, the audience has to be entirely brainwashed into thinking that any of it matters. Marvel has successfully pulled this off by making it so that if you haven’t seen the preceding decade-plus of movies, you will not understand what’s going on. Space Jam: A New Legacy’s problem is not that it’s stupid, it’s that it relies entirely on you going “I know that character” instead of “I’ve been watching all of these people interact for years and am in too deep to acknowledge that this is actually kind of stupid.”
None of this actually matters though, as the movie dethroned Black Widow at the box office this weekend and earned the most money of any Warner Bros. movie during the pandemic. We’ll probably be back in the Space Jam universe in a few years, with James and the Looney Tunes using the time turner from Harry Potter to go back in time and convince Kevin Feige to go into finance.