Twenty-five years after taking to the basketball court to save the world in the part-animated, part-live-action movie, Space Jam (1996), the Looney Tunes are back for another adventure. The film, a sort-of-sequel-cum-remake, is Space Jam: A New Legacy.
Space Jam: A New Legacy stars LeBron James, Don Cheadle, Sonequa Martin-Green, Cedric Joe, Jeff Bergman and Zendaya, and revolves around a basketball game where players compete for high stakes. The movie follows a similar format to the ‘90s original, but instead of dealing with an extra-terrestrial threat, the bad guy this time around lurks in cyber space.
In the movie, a rogue piece of A.I. called Al G. Rhythm, transports NBA player LeBron James and his son Dom, into the internet. He then forces James to take part in a basketball game, with freedom being the prize.
In order to stand a chance at winning, James recruits a team of players composed entirely of Looney Tunes characters. But Al G. Rhythm hasn’t been completely truthful about the game, and if James’ team lose, then Bugs and Co. will be deleted from cyberspace forever.
Space Jam: A New Legacy is available in UK cinemas from today, and is also popping up in various territories around the world. If you live in the US, you can catch the movie on the big screen or alternatively you can watch it via HBO MAX.
Of all the big blockbusters released this year, Space Jam: A New Legacy is one I was most looking forward to – I have a soft spot for the original, and a genuine love for the Looney Tunes. Unfortunately, having now seen the movie, I can only say that I am somewhat disappointed in this belated sequel.
Space Jam: A New Legacy is not a dire picture, so don’t think I am about to tell you it is the turkey of 2021 – but it’s not great. The film is OK – but nothing more than that.
As you can probably tell from the wafer-thin plot summary above, there isn’t much going on in the movie; but in all fairness, there wasn’t much going on in Space Jam either. So, to criticise Space Jam: A New Legacy for its plot would also require me to criticise Space Jam, and I’m not here to do that.
In essence, the movies are very similar. The story has been tweaked here and there, the Looney Tunes are given ample room to do some of their usual schtick, but this is pretty much the same story.
Where the two films differ is in their approach to the material. And it is here where this new entry encounters problems.
Space Jam: A New Legacy seems to have had some of the fun sucked out of it. Whereas the original movie was light, breezy, and filled with great pop songs, this one is slow, clunky, and seems to struggle to recapture the same kind of magic.
LeBron James plays a fairly grumpy character for a large part of the movie, the film takes far too long to get to the Looney Tunes, and with the exception of a couple of gags that do draw out some chuckles, most of the jokes are dead on arrival. The film is also overstuffed with references to other Warner Bros. properties; to the point where it becomes tiresome.
As the main events of the movie take place in cyber space, the characters move around the internet to connect with other intellectual properties owned by Warner Bros.. This leads to a number of references to The Matrix, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones, amongst others.
The problem is, these references aren’t just made once, in some cases they are made multiple times. What starts off as a cheeky nod and a wink to DC heroes or Hanna-Barbera characters, rapidly becomes nothing more than advertising, and by the mid-point of the movie I felt as if Warner Bros. were simply wanting me to shell out for a subscription to HBO MAX!
Of course, I can’t subscribe to HBO MAX as I live in the UK where it is not currently available. And anyway, even if I could, after this constant barrage of references and in-jokes I feel like I have seen all the Warner Bros. content I need.
The thing is, all of the cross-promotion that takes place throughout the first half of the movie isn’t even the worst of it; that is reserved for the big basketball game towards the backend of the film. In the movie, Al G. Rhythm fills the stadium with thousands of spectators, all taken from the Warner Bros. vault (the Joker, Space Ghost, Baby Jane, The Mask etc), so the whole game is swamped by bizarre avatars.
Not only does the sight of all these characters become a sensory overload, they are also very distracting. Instead of paying attention to the game, I found myself spending more time looking at the crowd, which completely removed me from the action.
At this point, boredom then set in, and I could feel my mind wandering. What should have been the climax of the movie turned to a complete mess, that I simply didn’t care about.
I get that studios are keen to highlight all of the great properties they own, and in recent times it has become a trend to stuff movies and TV shows with cameos, in-jokes, and more, but damn, this is too much!
Any studio head reading this, especially if you are a Warner Bros. executive, please stop it. Stop it now. Less is more. This has always been the rule.
Putting aside the cameo madness, Space Jam: A New Legacy also suffers from pacing issues, some out dated references, including a joke about MC Hammer that will fly over the heads of younger audiences, and a piece of very bizarre casting. Zendaya takes on the role of Lola Bunny for this movie, and I really don’t understand why?
I get that this is stunt casting, designed to bring in young Zendaya fans, but this role does nothing for the film and nothing for her. Zendaya is fine, but this part could have easily been played by any other voice actor, and I doubt many audiences will even know she is delivering the lines.
OK, enough with the negativity. There is a lot that doesn’t work in this movie, but there are some things that do.
Chief amongst the good stuff, is the movie’s message about finding your own path in life. This message is threaded throughout the picture, and it provides the heart and backbone to the story.
Another plus point is Don Cheadle, who is excellent as the villain. He brings just the right amount of menace to the story, and although some dodgy CGI towards the end of the movie attempts to derail his performance, he remains consistently good.
And then there are the Looney Tunes. Just the sight of them onscreen is enough to lift any picture.
There is a great deal of marketing and hype surrounding Space Jam: A New Legacy, and I expect some audiences will have a good time with it. It does have problems, and these stop it from living up to its potential, but it is perfectly watchable and not the train wreck it could have been.
But this movie should have been better. Watchable and OK are not the words I wanted to use to describe the film, and it is far from a slam dunk.