“Space Jam” was a box office success in 1996, grossing over $250 million worldwide and becoming the highest grossing basketball film of all time as well as the tenth-highest-grossing film of that year. I was only 11 years old when one of the most legendary basketball players and one of the most iconic animated characters teamed up, for a hybrid of live action and animation that was based on a series of popular TV commercials.
After re-watching “Space Jam” on the recently released 4K disc, it still holds up today and I still love it today as much as I did back in 1996. This November marks the original films 25th anniversary and after years of sequel talks, we finally get “Space Jam: A New Legacy”. Which ultimately feels more like a reboot than an actual sequel. “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is one of Warner Bros. 2021 films that premieres in theaters and on HBO Max the same day. While I watched it on HBO Max, this one benefits from a theater experience versus at home.
“Ghostbusters” director Ivan Reitman returns as a producer. Although this time around “Creed” and “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler and LeBron James himself, join in as producers. Unfortunately original “Space Jam” director Joe Pytka doesn’t return, but is replaced by Malcolm D. Lee (“The Best Man”, “Girls Trip”) who has a lot of weight to carry and expectations to meet with “Space Jam: A New Legacy”. It’s the biggest and most ambitious film of his career yet and for the most part handles everything with tremendous skill.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” is sorely missing the legend known as “Air Jordan” (Although a really funny gag addresses his absence). LeBron James makes his first lead starring role in “A New Legacy” and makes it a point to make sure everyone knows that this is his movie. “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is written by six writers that include Ryan Coogler’s brother Keenan Coogler and Terrence Nance (the films original director). The writers just don’t base the film solely on LeBron’s incredible Basketball skills. They incorporate his public image, his family, his upbringing and yes, even his seeming lack of loyalty to his teammates.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” finds LeBron struggling to connect with his youngest son Dom (Cedric Joe). LeBron is a demanding father who wants his boys to ball like he can, but Dom has aspirations to be a video game creator. The beef between father and son gets worse when they attend a meeting on the Warner Bros. lot, ironically to use LeBron’s image to modify the studio’s entire content library. When LeBron shoots the idea down, disgruntled artificial intelligence known as Al-G Rhythm (played by Don Cheadle) sucks both father and son into the Warner Bros Server-Verse, a digital landscape comprising of all of the studios properties.
If you wanted to see King Kong, The Iron Giant, Pennywise from “IT”, the droogs from Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” and so many more WB owned characters that would be too many to name, but all you can do is rejoice because they are all here! The Looney Tunes, provide the most clever use of the “Warner Bros. Universe”, as Bugs and LeBron get the gang back together by yanking them out of various beloved movies in a montage that’s over much too soon. You can see LeBron and Bugs Bunny walk through a scene from “Casablanca”, or get thrown into the middle of the dessert chase with Road Runner and Wylie E. Coyote from “Mad Max: Fury Road”.
Don Cheadle even spurts the Denzel Washington line from the Warner Bros. film “Training Day”. But “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is basically a 2-hour promo spot for the studio that tries to play as a sequel, reboot and a part two to “Ready Player One”. As cool as it is to see all these characters, it doesn’t always work. Such as some of the older references that are blended into the plot, like Granny doing a lame “Matrix” riff that is twenty years too late. Zendaya voices a repackaged version of Lola Bunny, the one Looney character who was hyper sexualized in the first movie is now a confident leader and a former Amazon hanging out with “Wonder Woman”.
The first two acts (the first hour) is wonderful and a lot of fun. But once the big game starts in it’s third act that’s where the film lost my attention and whatever interest I had was gone. The worst part of “A New Legacy” is that second hour featuring the big game itself. The CGI, animation, colors and visual effects where Bugs and the gang go from 2-D to 3-D animated versions of themselves with realistic fur and feathers are all spectacular, but the game itself is a complete bore.
Although you’ve got to hand it to the screenwriters of “A New Legacy”, who has been given the keys to the entire “Warner Bros Universe”. And while there is product placement galore, the screenwriters try hard not to rehash the original movie over again. Instead they give us two hours that fly right on by (half an hour longer than it’s predecessor) that shines with a whole new look, new ideas, new approaches and new concepts.
What they’ve created here isn’t just a sequel and/or reboot to “Space Jam”, but also a serious homage to “Ready Player One” with the subplot from Spielberg’s “Hook”, that has Don Cheadle playing Dustin Hoffman’s Captain Hook to a kid with daddy issues. Spielberg really should be collecting royalties from Bugs and the gang. It’s nice to see the Looney Tunes gang on screen again (who were last seen in 2003’s “Looney Tunes: Back in Action”).
The six writers doesn’t really know what to do with the iconic characters, offering them weak antics and mostly stale one liners. Director Malcolm D. Lee has much more visual firepower to work with than the original film. The entire two hours should be exciting and fun and not just it’s first hour, but Lee’s film just might be a bit too ambitious for him.
Then there’s the whole loving father arc, with the film trying to pull at the heartstrings with a leading man who lacks any real acting skills. “Space Jam: A New Legacy” will probably find a passionate following, just like it’s original film. However with it’s unimpressive second hour, the project feels like a missed opportunity to do something amazing within the Looney Tunes universe. Instead they’re here to support LeBron James, whose mastery on the court doesn’t match his acting chops. Sorry to say, but “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is close but it’s no slam dunk.
GRADE: ★★1/2☆☆☆ (2.5 out of 5)