LeBron James keeps trying to surpass Michael Jordan’s records so it is not surprising he’s straight up starring in Space Jam: A New Legacy. This is an odd sequel that doesn’t really reference the original and feels more like a remake. Instead of just the Looney Tunes the movie dips into the vast catalogue of Warner Brothers’ intellectual property. With WB characters peppering the background it feels a bit like an ad for the HBOMax streaming service in the States. Still, it’s not as if WB brand promotion soils the legitimacy of the Space Jam franchise considering the whole thing only exists literally because of a Nike ad with Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny from ‘93. A New Legacy has great animation, is very colourful and playing spot the references in the background is neat. It is damning this movie with faith praise that possibly the best stuff is seeing Batman ’66 and Batman ’89 characters cheering alongside each other, Tunes entering The Matrix and a 10 second Rick and Morty cameo but stuff exploding in cartoonish overwrought noise is sort of fun.
James (playing himself) is a superstar NBA player but has trouble connecting with his kid, Dom (Cedric Joe) who wants to make video games. When James shoots down an offer to be a part of the WB entertainment empire masterminded by an evil A.I. (Don Cheadle), the program calling itself Al G. Rhythm takes it personally. Al G warps LeBron and his son into the WB Server World which is comprised of Game of Thrones, DC, The Matrix, Harry Potter and, most importantly, the Looney Tunes. Challenged to a basketball game, LeBron and the most prominent Tune, Bugs Bunny (Jeff Bergman), recruit the wayward Looney Tunes. But Al G has advanced players based upon NBA and WNBA superstars and if Tune Squad loses, they’ll be deleted forever.
The original Space Jam had a fun sub-plot when Jordan’s NBA contemporaries like Charley Barkley had their talent stolen and also a really great brief role from Bill Murray. There really isn’t anything in here that matches those bits. Even though A New Legacy is a solid half-hour longer than the original, this doesn’t have time for amusing asides. LeBron gets a family in A New Legacy with the mother played by Star Trek: Discovery’s Sonequa Martin-Green and she gets in a few zingers. She and the other kids are basically there to be zapped into the virtual world to add manufactured jeopardy.
Jordan’s Space Jam had both Murray and Wayne Knight but a New Legacy doesn’t provide a funny human side-kick. Instead, LeBron spends most of the time worrying about his video game loving kid as Al G puts them on the opposite sides of the climatic basketball match. It sort of makes James’ character a bit more relatable than Jordan; Jordan got zapped away from his family by the Tunes and the most he worried about was how it would impact his baseball career. Showing LeBron as a caring father is supposed to add humanity to his quest but it’s perplexing why his kid going along with the evil A.I.’s plan to erase lovable, iconic characters. There’s a moment when LeBron pours out his heart to his kid and it sort of works but going for emotional pathos in a Space Jam movie is a wrong move. Cheadle as the Evil AI appropriately hams it up as he bounces between costume changes, with one moment when he calls a shady play he’s in a hoodie and headset like Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
The Tunes themselves are the same zany characters they always are. They start out separated and Bugs has gone even nuttier on his own but soon they round up the Tunes living in the Warner Brothers server. There’s a cool montage when they dip into the DC Universe or pull Tunes out of a scene from the Matrix. It is nakedly displaying the broad library of the Warner Brothers entertainment empire available on the streaming service HBOMax in the US. It is similar to the rampant’ 80s references in Ready Player One but in that film the 80s stuff was just window dressing and world building, this is making the WB universe a part of the plot. Often more interesting than the basketball match is seeing White Walkers, The Mask and two versions of Catwoman cheering on the sidelines.
The animation and mix of live action is really good as there are so many different styles of animation on display here. When LeBron lands in the Looney Tunes word he and the Tunes look like the traditional 2D animation of the characters. Eventually they’re buffed up for CGI 3D versions (“I look expensive!” Daffy Duck appraises) but it’s not presented as a wanted upgrade, it’s Al G messing with them. The film is very colourful and with lots of flashy FX which keeps things lively.
Space Jam: A New Legacy may more primarily be concerned about showing off the franchises Warner Brothers has instead of being an entirely satisfying movie but it is entertaining in a flashy nonsense sort of way. This is a junky, dumb, hectic film that works best when it’s presenting all the shiny objects in the WB toy box.
Space Jam: A New Legacy
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Starring: LeBron James, Don Cheadle and Cedric Joe