The reviews are in for LeBron James' 'Space Jam: A New Legacy,' and they're ... not great

·4-min read

Few, if any, sports movies have generated more interest and debate years before their release than "Space Jam: A New Legacy," which releases in theaters and on HBO Max on Friday.

The sequel to the 1996 nostalgia powerhouse that is Michael Jordan's "Space Jam," the new Warner Bros. film comes with Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James at the helm, the Looney Tunes at his flank and the entire Warner Bros. movie vault around him.

Like in all aspects of James' career, comparisons to the Jordan original are inescapable, but when the movie also has seen two different directors, six different screenwriters, five other NBA and WNBA All-Stars, two years of production and a $150 million budget, the bigger question around the movie may simply be "Is it good?"

Answers to that question started landing this week ahead of the movie's release. Here's what the reviews had to say.

Reviews for 'Space Jam: A New Legacy'

"Space Jam: A New Legacy" currently holds a 31 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes through 127 reviews and a 36 on Metacritic through 35 reviews. The critics consensus from RT:

Despite LeBron James' best efforts to make a winning team out of the Tune Squad, Space Jam: A New Legacy trades the zany, meta humor of its predecessor for a shameless, tired exercise in IP-driven branding.

Obviously, James and Warner Bros. would have been hoping for numbers higher than James' 2021 3-point field goal percentage (36.5 percent). As the consensus shows, the majority of critics loathed the endless train of Warner Bros. cameos and references (such as this clip with the Looney Tunes' Granny appearing in The Matrix universe),

From Entertainment Weekly:

Here's the thing about basketball: It is extremely watchable. Here's the thing about Space Jam: A New Legacy: It's not. You will be amazed by how little the basketball game resembles an actual sport, and how hard it is to sit through.

From the AV Club:

Space Jam: A New Legacy takes almost nothing but wrong turns, all leading to a glittering CGI trash heap of cameos, pat life lessons, and stale internet catchphrases.

From Polygon:

Space Jam: A New Legacy is only really satisfying to people who care about marketing and company profits, people who approach it as a product that’s successfully been sold. It’s like a basketball game your favorite team is winning — except the team isn’t one playing on screen. It’s the company that sold you the ticket.

Even some of the more positive reviews are more damning with faint praise than raves, such as this one from the Washington Post which was considered "fresh" by RT:

There’s no real reason for this sequel/tribute to the original 1996 film to exist, but now that it does, there’s no reason to wish that it didn’t. While “You could do worse” probably wouldn’t pass muster with the movie’s marketing people as a tagline, it’s probably the most accurate assessment of the film.

Though there were some who legitimately enjoyed the film, or at least believed the film's target audience would enjoy it, like Den of Geek:

The reason Space Jam: A New Legacy doesn’t fall off of the wheels is because the film has a clear message for kids, a satisfying character arc for James, and an emotional climax that is acted well enough by the four-time MVP. That’s more than His Airness’ version gave us. At the end of the day, this is a movie for kids, and they’ll likely be pulled into its world like the characters themselves.

Among the things that were actually praised are the performances of James and Don Cheadle, who plays the villain, and the high-budget digital effects. Basically, it seems that most will enjoy this movie if they really like LeBron James and if they really like Warner Bros. as a studio.

'Space Jam: A New Legacy' reviews aren't everything

Maintaining perspective is important here. First of all, recall that we are talking about a movie that is ostensibly meant for kids, as the first one was. Yes, some kids movies review well (e.g. everything Pixar), but adults probably shouldn't go in expecting a movie to cater to their tastes.

Second, it may be worth pointing that the original "Space Jam" wasn't a critical darling either, holding a 44 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Nostalgia is a powerful drug and overcoming it may simply be an impossible task when it controls a generation of basketball fans, though James should have known that when he signed on the dotted line.

Ot course, the bright side for James and Warner Bros. is that while the reviews for "Space Jam" might have been lukewarm, interest in them was not. Rotten Tomatoes' site was down for much of Wednesday as the first big wave of reviews hit, and it's hard to believe that heavy traffic from fans interested in the movie didn't play a role in the outage.

If that translates into big box office and streaming numbers, the critics can say whatever they want.

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