‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’- Film Review: The Long-Awaited Sequel Didn’t Jam

What’s the Story: When LeBron James and his aspiring video game designer son Dom (Cedric Joe) are trapped in the digital space of Warner Sever-Verse by a rogue A.I. named Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle), he kidnaps his son and will let him go unless he finds a team to compete in a high stakes basketball game. With that, LeBron gets sent to Tune World where he finds Bugs Bunny (voiced by Jeff Bergman) and it’s up to them to gather the rest of the Looney Tunes to re-team as the Tune Squad and play against Al’s champions, the Goon Squad.

It’s crazy that we finally have a sequel to the 1996 hit sports comedy Space Jam. Every kid growing up in the ’90s must’ve watched it over a dozen times and loved it, especially for hardcore Michael Jordan fanatics. It’s not a masterpiece, and I know it’s dumb, but I still find it nostalgic to where I can’t say it’s bad. This is also the first time the world gets to see the lovable cartoon characters on the big screen since 2003’s Looney Tunes: Back in Action, which I don’t think holds up after recently re-watching it. The closest we got to a sequel was different ideas in the past, including having other athletes like Jeff Gordon and Tiger Woods.

Warner Bros. announced this seven years ago and has come out to play after tons of pushbacks after they set James to star and director Malcolm D. Lee came in as a replacement for Terence Nance after leaving. Honestly, going into this, I had a feeling this would not be one of my favorite of the year, but I guess I wanted to have a ton of fun watching a new take of what I enjoyed from before. And this proves that if your movie was a box office hit after 25 years, there’s a high chance it’ll let you down, which is what Space Jam: A New Legacy ended up being. 

Maybe it’s because I just turned 25 (born the same year the original came out), or my brain tried desperately not to think too much about it, but as I was watching this, I couldn’t help to wonder this sequel never found its energy. It was like a slap in the face to those with no childhood and faced the facts. I can see this movie was made for a new generation, and they will like it.

Our main star LeBron James takes center stage, this time following in Jordan’s footsteps, and I was easily excited to see him act more since he wasn’t too bad playing himself in Trainwreck. There shouldn’t be a comparison between who’s better, but this is where his performance, as a fictional version of himself, wasn’t as impressive as I thought he would, despite the full commitment he was giving in this. Most athletes turned actors are hard to come by, but you see limited range from James since you don’t buy his emotions all too well as there wasn’t as much charisma as what Jordan brought in the original. He gets a lot to do, especially when he first meets Bugs Bunny in Tune World and needs his help to bring a team together.

And you get to have your favorite Looney Tunes that are a must when getting everyone back together. Of course, there’s Bugs, but there’s also Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Sylvester, Tweety Bird, Wile E. Coyote, Roadrunner, Granny, Gossamer, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Speedy Gonzales, Tasmanian Devil, and Lola Bunny (voiced by Zendaya). Speaking of Zendaya, I didn’t know if she was going to sound right voicing Lola, but I was fine with it after a while. Do I feel the characters did as much as before? The more I thought about it, they don’t seem as important this time. Seeing them with James work together is good enough that a slight improvement that’s easy to get a kick out of. But I bought the reason they brought Jordan to play for them made sense whereas the explanation into.

Don Cheadle seemed to have a blast with his performance as Al-G Rhythm (algorithm, get it?) that shows what movie he’s in. Me questioning if they meant for him to be this over-the-top villain left my mind since I had to accept most artificial intelligences will turn evil one day, and he’s made out to be a complete scene-stealer when he tries to manipulate LeBron’s son when he doesn’t want to follow in his dad’s footsteps in being a potential basketball player and focus on video games.

The blending of animation/ CGI and live-action gets the job done in being a tiny bit better since it doesn’t look dated, though the 2D animation is nothing to be amazed by. There can be too much CGI when I wanted the Looney Tunes to go back to their 2D form and not so much of their updated look. And about the soundtrack, there isn’t a bop anywhere in here that came close to what they included in the original, which shows my taste in music.

The story is about the same, but you now have LeBron asking the Looney Tunes for help in winning the game certainly there are more stakes here, and you already know you’re gonna get a message that is easy to get when it shows us early on. But how can I pay attention when all A New Legacy is a full-length and expensive ad for HBO Max? And it’s my favorite streaming service, but this was not what I expected. At least movies like Ready Player One and The Lego Movie didn’t feel bloated about their tactics, so how come there’s an abundance of Warner Bros. IPs all over the place? Sure, it was entertaining at first, but it was like a long-running reference that gets tiring quickly. The first movie was simple where it was nice seeing other cartoon characters in the Tune universe. I don’t know why the recruitment montage has the Tunes inserted into the world of better movies kids aren’t old enough to watch yet, like Mad Max: Fury Road or The Matrix. In fairness, there were a few funny moments from a few cameos that got some laughs out of me. There was also dumb humor that wasn’t even funny. Life would be much better if I had never seen Porky Pig drop a fat rap randomly. Its heart is in the right place as the original with the father/son storyline you know where it’s going, but it’s not enough to feel earned.

At the point where we’re finally got into the actual basketball game, it should’ve been the most exciting moment worth getting excited about. Sometimes I was paying attention watching the Tune Squad play against the Goon Squad (Anthony Davis, Diana Taurasi, Nneka Ogwumike and Klay Thompson) in the weirdest game that doesn’t care for its strange fundamentals. I found myself utterly distracted by the overstuffed background characters of familiar characters from movies and television series that take away from the basketball craziness going about and wondering why it’s longer than the first movie. It wasn’t as investing as before, which I wished wasn’t the case.

By the time it wraps up, it leaves you kind of exhausted not getting much out of it, and I couldn’t help to think the six writers (?) and Lee didn’t know how to make the characters popular in today’s world. This made me wish those who hate the original will find it better compared to what we got with this sequel. For some, it simply delivers on the star power of Laker’s finest, the Looney Tunes, and many Easter eggs all around. For me, I’m not dumb to know it’s made for kids and not adults. That said, it wasn’t clever enough to make this long-awaited movie worthwhile.

Final Thoughts: Space Jam: A New Legacy knows how to be a disappointing sequel. As someone who has fond memories of the original and still finds it nostalgic, everything about this leads to being messy and bloated, which includes an underwhelming performance from LeBron James and a shameless plug for better IPs.

Grade: C-

Space Jam: A New Legacy Movie Poster

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