The 1996 original film, Space Jam, is more fondly remembered by those who grew up around the time of the mid-to-late 90’s and although it’s no classic in terms of quality, it had its own charm and served as a time capsule for the era. A sequel was always rumored, with other sports icons including Tiger Woods and Jeff Gordon all attached at one point, but wisely never came to fruition. 25 years later, the sequel/reboot finally arrives in the form of A New Legacy. Although we all figured a sequel to Space Jam would be a cynical cash grab, unfortunately Space Jam: A New Legacy actually feels like it.
The reboot-quel to the cult favorite trades in Michael Jordan for this generation’s Basketball king, LeBron James, in what feels like an uninspired Ready Player One riff mixed with Tron. When an evil AI system lurking within the WB studios in the shape of Don Cheadle, aptly name Al G. Rhythm, kidnaps LeBron’s son, the star is forced into the Warner Bros “serververse” where he teams up with Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes to yet again settle the score in a climactic basketball game.
It’s a true disappointment A New Legacy isn’t better given the immense talent behind it. Black Panther and Creed filmmaker Ryan Coogler serves as a producer and director Malcolm D. Lee has proven himself more than capable at delivering the comedic goods with side-splitting comedies like Girls Trip and Undercover Brother. Instead of delivering quirky meta commentary or sly satire, this feels more like a commercial for HBO Max and future WB properties than even the first film, which was based off a Nike commercial. If six credited screenwriters is any indication, this feels like the product of too many cooks, severely lacking in personality.
Running at an exhaustive 115 minutes, the plot is overstuffed with far too many characters and too much emphasis on Warner IP that only drags the movie down. None of the tunes get any memorable or lasting moments to shine, even the Zendaya-voiced Lola Bunny feels like an afterthought.
Not to mention, many of the IP LeBron and the tunes interact with are a strange fit for its family audience.
The humor is aimed squarely for children, yet the characters interact in the worlds of The Matrix, Mad Max, Game of Thrones, and even in the climactic showdown, some of the background characters include the rapist droogs from A Clockwork Orange and, bafflingly, one of the nuns from Ken Russell’s The Devils.
LeBron James, while not as stilted as Michael Jordan’s performance in the first film, won’t be remembered as fondly for his acting chops here compared to recent NBA star/actor Kevin Garnett in Uncut Gems. James, who’s been charismatic and humorous before, see his scene-stealing turn in Trainwreck, gets stranded having to act largely by himself against an array of CG characters. Even Michael Jordan in the first film was surrounded by acting giants Bill Murray and Wayne Knight for a majority of the runtime. James shines most in the films climactic basketball showdown and in some of the animated voiceovers bits, but it’s not a performance that’ll be remembered for the better.
Space Jam: A New Legacy most often feels like a cinematic meme that isn’t fully in on the joke — just because you include Big Chungus for a millisecond does not make you clever. Director Malcolm D. Lee coasts on recognizable WB brands in exchange for lasting laughs. Don Cheadle is having a blast as the villainous AI system, bringing a definite spark whenever he’s on-screen. There’s also some fun visual gags here and there and one particularly killer joke involving a third act cameo, but these are fleeting glimpses at a film that could have been.
Space Jam: A New Legacy is not an anger-inducing disaster or a travesty some will likely try to dub it as. Instead, it’s a missed opportunity to bring a new generation of audiences into the world of Looney Tunes and instead feels like an exercise in corporate branding.