25 years later and I’m still down for some Looney Tunes/basketball shenanigans — legit critics be damned!
Picking up the reins from original Space Jam protagonist, Michael Jordan, Space Jam: A New Legacy sees current basketball GOAT, LeBron James, doing what he does best: play basketball and (apparently) save his family and the entire Looney Tunes cast in the process! Sucked into the digital realm known as the Serververse by an evil algorithm within the Warner Bros.’ virtual space calling himself Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle), LeBron is tasked with scouring the film studio’s vast digital library of intellectual properties in order to put together a basketball team to win back his son, Dominick “Dom” James (Cedric Joe), from Al-G’s coded clutches. Yet after arriving in Tune World, it’s clear that not everything is as it once was, and as LeBron meets up with Bugs Bunny himself to find the missing Looney Tunes scattered across the Serververse, the idea of beating a new roster of overpowered basketball players becomes much more dire by the second. Let the cameos ensue!
First things first: no this movie isn’t as good as the original Space Jam (which don’t forget got shitty reviews right out of the gate, too), and no it isn’t particularly well scripted or executed in the most effective way it could have been, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t enjoy most of what I was watching onscreen through and through. Making a beloved sequel decades after the fact is a tall order for any franchise to make, but like the original, this movie is a blast when it wants to be, and kind of a mess everywhere else.
Taking audiences on a whirlwind tour across Warner Bros.’ ever-growing library of characters and fictional worlds, Space Jam: A New Legacy is basically what Ready Player One was like in regards to the pop-culture crossovers, just backed by a way more family friendly story that misses a bit more than expected, to be sure, but also has moments where it shines brighter than anything I could have ever hoped for. It’s far from perfect even when it does the right things, so haters are absolutely gonna hate, but I found myself liking more of what I saw than what I probably should have, and for that, this film has my respect.
Hanging the admittedly contrived and thin script on LeBron’s shoulders, I did expect a bit more from a guy who honestly surprised me with his acting chops stemming from any number of smaller roles I’ve seen him in previously, but for some reason in this flick, LeBron can’t find a groove for a lot of the runtime; his best performance coming in the form of his voice acting while stuck in Tune World as the 2D version of himself. Now don’t get me wrong, having rewatched the original film just before seeing this one made me realize that Jordan was also not very good in his acting by any stretch of the imagination, but the fact that LeBron has more to do in this movie doesn’t help cover up his less than stellar screen presence by a long shot, and if anything draws more attention to it.
Yet for all the shaky filmmaking and scripting going on, the overall vibe, look and feel of the film is just plain fun to experience, regardless of its strengths or flaws as a whole. Say what you will about the insane amount of cross-brand cameos happening here, but the idea of injecting them all into a film like this isn’t a bad one at all, and actually works way better than I thought it would considering a lot of the criticism thrown at this one comes from people calling it a commercial for HBO Max and its vast library of content — which, to be entirely fair — is a reductive if somewhat true comment that really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of the story being told. Seeing the clown from IT or Voldemort chillin in the background of a shot may be Warner Bros. stroking their own egos as nauseam, but it’s fun to see nonetheless, and didn’t affect my thoughts on the film at all.
Overall, Space Jam: A New Legacy is definitely not as good as the original, but it also isn’t really trying to replicate that movie, instead giving audiences a fun family film to enjoy with varying results. This film’s flaws are way more apparent than its strengths, but when it comes down to it, an interesting hook, some fun Looney Tunes action, a consistently cool visual palette and a video game angle that just barely works makes this sequel one that might not have been worth the decades long wait, but is still worth the watch.