If there’s one piece of common nostalgia for those born in the 90s and after it’s the fervent love for 1996’s Space Jam. Perhaps the all-out marketing assault and prime commercialisation of the Looney Tunes brand with a peak-of-popularity Michael Jordan just worked wonders for its target audience. If something was great when you were kid, then it’s always going to be amazing and perfect, right?
Space Jam is still the highest-grossing Looney Tunes-related film and quite a terrible movie. It lazily recycles the revolutionary hybrid live-action/animation filmmaking that made Who Framed Roger Rabbit a classic, and poorly cast Michael Jordan in the lead role which made him literally stick out of place. Even Chuck Jones, co-creator of Bugs Bunny and one of the main producers of the original Looney Tunes cartoons, decried the film as completely against what the classic animated characters were really about.
But who cares when kids on TikTok call it a “cinematic classic”?
It’s been 25 years, and through many different iterations of a Space Jam 2 (one idea floated being Skate Jam with Tony Hawk), we know have Space Jam: A New Legacy starring LeBron James. This is a sequel that somehow is more commercially driven than its predecessor whose only reason for existence was cashing in on shoe commercials.
A New Legacy has LeBron, playing himself of course, and his son Dom (Cedric Joe) being trapped in the Warner Bros. ServerVerse by rogue algorithm Al-G Rhythm (get it?). Al-G (Don Cheadle) pits father against son in basketball so he can then use LeBron’s massive social media following to infect all technology. Dom teams up with enhanced members of the NBA and WNBA, while LeBron is forced to make a team with the Looney Tunes, who are all scattered amongst the different worlds of Warner Bros. movies and TV shows, such as The Matrix, Game of Thrones, Wonder Woman, and Casablanca.
If you couldn’t guess from the premise, Space Jam: A New Legacy is somehow worse than the first movie. I may thoroughly dislike Space Jam, but it clearly knew who it’s audience was: basketball fans and kids who liked Looney Tunes. A New Legacy is completely unsure of who it’s for. You have the Looney Tunes characters for those fans, scatological humour for the small children, appearances from current basketball stars for those fans, wildly inconsistent appearances from everything Warner Bros. has rights to, and the very existence of this movie caters to fans of the first movie who were demanding a sequel with a new worldwide star of the court.
Even if you could move on from the overt commercial nature of the plotting and humour, A New Legacy is a poorly-made film. The lighting choices are dull, the camera angles are purely functional without style, and the flat aspect ratio looks lazy. When LeBron first enters the worlds of the Looney Tunes and DC characters, everything is in 2D animation, including LeBron. This seems like a massive improvement over the unconvincing interactions between Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny in the first movie, but then as soon as they enter other worlds, all consistency is thrown out of the window. In Mad Max and Matrix worlds, LeBron is real but the Looney Tunes are still 2D, and then when they enter the basketball showdown, there’s a whole beat where both Tunes and LeBron are forced to change into real versions of themselves, even though LeBron already did it and there’s no reason why the Tunes have to do it now. It constantly breaks its own internal logic in a way that isn’t a riff on Tex Avery but merely a failure to make something entertaining on a basic level.
When we do enter the basketball showdown halfway through, we’re subjected to extensive CGI sequences of Warner Bros characters like King Kong, Flinstones, Scooby Doo, Drogon from Game of Thrones, and the Iron Giant all flooding the stands to watch the Toon Squad face off against the Goon Squad, but these characters are all in the far background. The foreground courtside crowd is a wild mix of Batman villains, the Droogs from A Clockwork Orange, the Night King and a few White Walkers, Pennywise, the Mask, the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz, and even Sister Jeanne des Anges from The Devils, all dressed in costumes that make Comic-Con cosplay look expensive.
You can literally see the seams where reality stops and CG takes over, which is the same problem the first movie had with its basketball scenes. It is baffling to go 25 years between movies, use brand new technology that can blur reality and still make the same mistakes.
I think there’s a reason it took me three weeks to write this review, and it goes beyond other priorities. I took time for Black Widow because there’s enough detail and effort in that movie that deserves attention. Space Jam: A New Legacy was such a painful, draining and lifeless experience that trying to think about is a draining effort.
In a screening full of young children dragged there by their patient parents, I was the only one laughing, mostly out of irony at such horrible mistakes being made on screen, and only once at a decent gag involving “Michael Jordan”. Not even the broad scatological humour worked for this audience, so again I ask the question: who is this for?
Space Jam: A New Legacy only exists because LeBron James wants an ego-boost and Warner Bros. want to advertise the content library of HBO Max. It fails as a parody (not a surprise since this was handled by Scary Movie 5’s Malcolm D. Lee), it fails as a Looney Tunes movie because most of them having nothing to do, and it fails as a sports movie because…well…it’s Space Jam. I hope this is the last I ever have to speak of Space Jam so let it be said that A New Legacy is an empty, soulless, wholly forgettable, nauseating and pitiful excuse for a cinematic effort.
If you think I’m wrong, try and stomach watching Porky Pig in a rap battle. Yes, it happens.
Director: Malcolm D. Lee (replaced Terence Nance)
Writers: Juel Taylor, Tony Rettenmaier, Keenan Coogler, Terence Nance, Jesse Gordon, Celeste Ballard (from a story by Juel Taylor, Tony Rettenmaier, Keenan Coogler, Terence Nance)
Starring: LeBron James, Don Cheadle, and the voices of Jeff Bergman, Eric Bauza and Zendaya
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