Space Jam: A New Legacy Spoiler-Free Review
Twenty-five years ago, Warner Bros gave us the most unlikely of films, Space Jam. Combining live-action with 2D animation, that film saw Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan team in a high-stakes game of basketball. Despite getting mixed reviews from critics, audiences seemed to love the film, turning it into a cult classic. For years, Warner Bros considered the idea of a sequel, bouncing around several ideas. However, nothing came of them, and the film went into development hell. Then in 2019, word came out that the sequel was officially on. Two years later, Space Jam: A New Legacy hit theaters and HBO Max. But how does it live up to the original’s legacy? And is it worth the hype that Warner’s put into it?
The short answer: yes and no.
It’s Like the Original Space Jam, but With Extra Steps
It’s not really spoiling the film to say that it more or less follows the formula set by the original Space Jam. Famed basketball player LeBron James turns down this offer to partner up with Warner Bros, thereby angering the companies’ sentient AI, Al-G Rhythm. Thus, Al traps LeBron in a vast digital world made up of Warner Bros’ equally vast library of properties, along with his estranged son. If LeBron wants to get out and get his son back, he’s got to beat Al in a game of basketball. So, LeBron teams up with the Looney Tunes to save the day. Oh, and if they lose, the Tunes get deleted.
As previously stated, A New Legacy more or less follows the same formula as the original film, but with extra padding. The film’s thirty minutes longer and more time’s spent focusing on the game itself. In addition, there’s the main plot at work about LeBron trying to bond with his (fictional) son despite their different interests. LeBron wants his kids to be basketball players like him, but Dom wants to make video games. And it takes most of the film for the realization that he can’t force his son to do what he wants to sink in. It’s a well-worn parent-child conflict and doesn’t really add anything to it.
Eh, Warner’s Looking Very Insecure, Doc
There’s one painfully obvious advantage that the original Space Jam has over A New Legacy: it focuses on the Looney Tunes and no one else. Say what you want about that film, but Warner knew it had to focus on the cartoon characters that made it into a media giant. However, its sequel decides to go the opposite route by cramming as much of its IP into the film as possible. Hanna-Barbera characters? They’re in the crowd in the big game. The Animaniacs. Look and you’ll see them several times? The White Walkers from Game of Thrones? They’re in the audience alongside Danny DeVito’s Penguin and the Mask! Even Rick and Morty got a cameo!
On the one hand, this kind of material is perfect nostalgia bait for pop culture fanatics. No doubt fans of Warner Bros will spend hours combing the film for references and cameos. On the other hand, Warner already did this to much greater effect with Ready Player One a few years ago. And unlike that movie, which included properties outside of Warner ownership (Mortal Kombat, Halo, Gundam), this is all Warners. As a result, it feels less like a movie at times and more like a glorified ad reminding people of how much Warner Bros owns.
There’s more to this problem than just shameless self-promotion, though. The original film only had to rely on the Looney Tunes and nothing else. Space Jam: A New Legacy calls all hands on deck to pad itself out. As a result, the film makes Warner seem very insecure about its classic cartoons’ ability to survive in the modern-day. And unlike Ready Player One, this is a hindrance rather than help. In other words, Warner’s not sure if Bugs Bunny can make it in today’s world.
An Overall Decent Film, But Warner Could’ve Done Better
While the critics are out there disparaging this film as a failure and bad reviews are coming in on Rotten Tomatoes, this may be a case where both the critics and the audiences are right. Yes, Space Jam: A New Legacy relies more on Warner’s considerable fictional resources than it should. But at the same time, it can still be a fun, entertaining film to enjoy. Plus, Don Cheadle does a great job of chewing the scenery as Al-G Rhythm, so it’s got that going for it. I’m betting a lot of families are going to end up liking this film, along with some pop culture aficionados. However, if Warner wants to try something like this again, a word of advice: either have faith that the Looney Tunes alone can carry the movie, or just expand it to be about Warner’s entire catalog. You can’t have it both ways.