Space Jam: A New Legacy Review: A dirty, messy, unremarkable franchise flex
The original Space Jam that saw NBA legend Michael Jordan play alongside Looney Tunes characters to defeat a grotesque goon squad might not be a flawless film, but it’s a classic that holds up well. It’s one of the few live action/animated hybrids that actually works mainly because it knew exactly what it needed to be. A really fun family flick that blends two beloved icons’ worlds together for some chaotic fun. The Looney Tunes cast can pretty much always conjure up a great time and even now it’s easy to appreciate the wholesome and committed performance Jordan gives.
With Space Jam being the nostalgic delight that it is, it almost certain that, in a time where every dormant property is getting rebooted, remade, and/or revived, we would see some kind of return. Unsurprisingly, that announcement eventually came and while it was sad that Jordan wouldn’t return, having a modern equivalent in the form of Lebron James fill his shoes wasn’t a bad choice. It felt fitting given the film’s subtitle, A New Legacy, and there was a lot of potential for this sequel.
One of the things that gave me hope early on for this being a solid, modern sequel is the potential it had to tap into some of its starring protagonists’ real-life narratives. Lebron’s career has definitely had its ups and downs with him moving from team to team and facing the brunt of criticism from fans. It honestly would’ve been great to see these parts of Lebron’s career come through in the story to make it something fans could recognize and relate to. These personal elements would’ve probably improved Lebron’s performance as well by making him more familiar with the material. Even the Looney Tunes had real-life story potential given that they aren’t seen much anymore and there could’ve been an interesting story thread about them rising to prominence again.
Unfortunately, Space Jam: A New Legacy is just a hollow shell of a film that barely tries to be anything more than shameless advertisement for Warner Bros’ filmography. Instead of using personal details of Lebron to help create a strong narrative, the film just sticks Lebron in the center of a self-obsessed, bad dad storyline that makes him look pretty bad. With him becoming solely focused on basketball at a young age, Lebron now looks to imprint those values on his kids and has troubled doing so with his tech obsessed son Dom (Cedric Joe). Lebron’s so hyper-focused on “the fundamentals” and keeping Dom in a basketball mindset that he quickly becomes unlikeable, and his performance leaves a lot to be desired. Even as he starts chilling with Bugs Bunny (voiced by Jeff Bergman) and company and going through different WB properties, he barely looks like he’s having any fun. Part of what makes a film like this work is having its human lead at least look like their having a good time and through most of the film, Lebron looks like he doesn’t want to be there.
However, it’s hard to totally blame him since the script really pins him in this corner and doesn’t allow him to break this stern, grouchy mold that’s a total buzzkill. This whole strained father/son relationship storyline goes through the expected beats of them differing and Lebron (with the help of the toons) coming to realize that he’s being stupid and should just support his son’s dreams. However, it just comes with the fundamental story structure and barely features any meaningful interactions between Lebron and the toons to make his big change of heart anything but forced. Frankly, the film’s main antagonist, an eccentric rouge A.I. named Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle) is much more likeable and fun to watch. Cheadle feels totally unleashed here with a perfectly cartoony performance that always grabs your attention and is one of the most entertaining elements of A New Legacy.
I can’t even believe I’m going to say this, but he’s even better than the Looney Tunes bunch since they are just heavily undervalued and secondary here. The jokes and gags they have felt right up their alley for the most part and it is great to see them back in action again. Even seeing them in 3D animation was solid and they looked better than most 2D characters look when they’re made 3D. The textures look pretty solid for the most part and they still have the same kind of wacky action animation they would in their original form. However, this film is a true disservice to Looney Tunes with how these iconic characters are used.
The first film felt like a true Looney Tunes adventure with Michael Jordan along for the ride, but here, they’re just a vehicle to show characters from other WB properties. In their initial introduction, Lebron finds that Bugs is the only one left in toon world after the rest of the toons head to the other properties. The whole plot to reunite the toons is just a giant excuse to see them with other iconic characters and at times that can be cool. It is funny to see Daffy (voiced by Eric Bauza) in Metropolis, which is awesomely animated like Superman: The Animated Series, and it was hard not to smile seeing Rick and Morty show up. Even seeing Lola Bunny (voiced by Zendaya) run the gauntlet in a Wonder Woman comic was pretty sweet. However, most of the time, the toons are just shoved into other properties that are forced pairings that just overshadow their return.
You know it’s bad when the Looney Tunes are basically a footnote in their own movie and it’s a shame since the first film created fan favorites that are barely touched on here. Lola Bunny was a such a breakout star in Space Jam and it’s a shame that she’s barely utilized in this film aside from being the only toon Lebron can really talk to because she plays so well. Also, although Zendaya’s voice work is solid here, it definitely pales in comparison to Kath Soucie’s voice work in the original. The rest of the toons are kind of pointless to be in the movie, including Bug and Daffy, since they really only get to be themselves every now and again. They’re essentially forced into the background and barely have any memorable moments outside of the awkward “modernizations” of Granny (voiced by Candi Milo) saying “haters gonna hate” and Porky Pig (also voiced by Bauza) rapping. Even the bastardized version of basketball they end up playing is pointlessly dumb modernizing that takes what could’ve been a fun slam dunk contest variation and turns it into a finale with no rules or easy to follow structure.
Worst of all, is that this movie attempts to flex WB’s property lineup and does a terrible job of it. Rather than respectfully pay homage to things, famous WB characters might as well be mediocre crowd sprites in a sports game. Most of the recognizable characters in the crowds look like distracting cosplayers and the characters are just scattered around with no sense of purpose or meaning. It’s just like they’re vomited across the screen and with WB nailing Ready Player One, this is severely disappointing.
Space Jam: A New Legacy is a complete mess that barely harnesses the great qualities of the original and instead just sticks Lebron and the Looney Tunes in a weak script that unnecessarily overshadows them with bland story beats and crummy advertisements for other WB properties that are clearly being treated with more respect than this one.