LeBron James is a total dad in “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” He makes dad jokes. He fails like a dad, he succeeds like a dad and he wins like a dad. It’s one of the many reasons why this new “Space Jam” movie works so well. It’s a family film — a family story that we can all relate to, and one that makes this film much stronger than it might seem on the surface.
And we need more of those. The marketing, the Warner Bros. promotion — none of that matters. What really matters is that this movie has a heart at its center with a positive message about families. We need more movies like it. We need these self-contained family flicks that allow us to reflect on ourselves and how we act in our own families.
The new “Space Jam” has a more modern story. Basically, James finds himself as a flawed father who continues to pressure his children into being basketball stars. But one his children wants to build video games instead. Fast forward to James and his son going to a meeting at Warner Bros., where they end up in a computer room. Soon enough, James’ son is captured by Al G. Rhythm, the leading artificial intelligence of Warner Bros. James must then create a team to take on Al G. Rhythm’s squad. Otherwise, LeBron James and his entire family will have to stay in the server-verse forever.
OK, so it’s a little complicated. But basically, James has to win a basketball game to bring his son back home. And James gets stuck with the Looney Tunes — despite wanting other Warner Bros. characters as his teammates. That doesn’t stop James from searching through the Warner Bros. catalog for teammates. We see references to “Harry Potter,” “Game of Thrones” and so many other properties. It’s actually pretty surprising how many references we get to the Warner Bros. catalog — nods to franchises, characters and locations we never knew existed in their pantheon.
Much has been written about how the new “Space Jam” is a marketing plot. It’s a movie meant to highlight some of Warner Bros.'s best products (and that’s not exactly a bad idea for a company that has recently launched a streaming service in HBO Max, which allows access to a number of the films and television series referenced in the movie). You could argue the entire movie is one big advertisement for HBO Max, Warner Bros. and even James as an athlete.
That’s why “Space Jam: A New Legacy” hasn’t impressed critics. The Rotten Tomatoes score from critics sits at 32% from 145 reviews. Many of those reviews slam the marketing plot by the film, comparing it to one long commercial compared to an actual movie.
Of course, the reviews should consider that the whole marketing thing is the point of “Space Jam” in a way. The original film did the same thing for Michael Jordan. The movie highlighted the iconic Jordan as one of the best basketball players in the world, showing off his strength and status as a player.
But here’s why “Space Jam” should not be underrated or underappreciated. This is a simple take, but it’s an important one. “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is a family movie that doesn’t require anything else except for you to have a good time.
Literally, that’s all you have to do. Show up to the movie theater, watch some mixed reality entertainment where James becomes a cartoon (yes, there is a legit cartoon of LeBron James in this movie) and enjoy yourself. Laugh when the jokes come through. Cry when the heartwarming family moments pop up. Applaud when James does one of his signature slam dunks. There isn’t a cinematic universe to explore. There’s no pressure on this film doing well. “Space Jam” has such low expectations — mostly due to the fact that it is a marketing movie with an athlete actor, a fact that the movie even reminds us in a classic wink to the audience — that anything that happens won’t disappoint you.
We don’t get movies like this anymore, which makes it special. It has so many references for adults to understand, specifically about the NBA, LeBron and pop culture. It’s a clean-cut classic film with a little cartoonish drama thrown in. You don’t have to think too hard. You don’t have to worry about cameos and surprise appearances. You just have to worry about the story, the hero and the villain.
And it helps that “Space Jam” has a powerful message about family. Let your children be who they want to be. Allow your children to grow up in the way they want and find the hobbies they like. And if you’re failing your family or failing your children, work to make it right. Good things require hard work. Sometimes you have to get through the storm to see the sunny days. The same can be said for raising your family. That’s what James has to go through in this film. He has to work to redeem himself in the eyes of hisfamily — a perfect message for any dad who has found himself in the doghouse for looking at his phone during a dinner conversation or for spending a little too much money at Bass Pro Shops. Haven’t we all experienced a story like this? Haven’t we all been the child who has been disappointed by our family? Haven’t we all been the wife, husband, daughter, son, boyfriend or girlfriend who is upset with their spouse, partner or parent for not believing in other people? Haven’t we all been LeBron James?
OK, probably not that far. But you get the point — we have all experienced moments like the ones LeBron goes through. And that’s what makes this movie so powerful.
And there’s clearly an appetite for it. The film notched $31.65 million at the box office over the weekend, which “was the best 3-day we’ve seen for a family film during the pandemic,” according to Deadline. The Rotten Tomatoes score from the audience sits at 81% — which is nearly triple the critics’ scores, proving that families are perfectly fine with this sort of theatrical content.
“It’s the family movie of the summer, and it’s exciting to see audiences come back in big numbers,” said Warner Bros. domestic theatrical distribution chief Jeff Goldstein, according to Deadline.
It’s a movie you’d find in the family section of an old video rental store — right beside the previous “Space Jam.” You could rent it for a night with your family and have a good time. The beauty is that you can watch this movie anytime on HBO Max, too, so it’s not like you have to go to the movie theaters every time you want to watch it. You can watch it this Friday if you want.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” is not a cinematic masterpiece. But it is a movie that’s perfect for your family, your children and any adult who has nostalgia for the original or LeBron James’ early career. We need more movies like this one — self-contained movies that focus on family, and the importance of building that family. So stop the hate on LeBron James’ flick. We need more movies like it.