Space Jam: A New Legacy does dunk on its 1996 predecessor, but still manages to foul out by game time.
1996’s Space Jam was built on consumerism. Reruns of classic Looney Tunes theatrical shorts aired on Saturday mornings helping the famous Tunes regain popularity making their way into clothing lines from Starter jackets to T-shirts.
Michael Jordan was the hottest player on the planet having been with the Chicago Bulls since 1987 and retiring in 1993 to play Minor League Baseball. He was practically the biggest star in the NBA by the time 1996 rolled around due to returning to the Bulls for a second three-peat season.
Personally, Jordan was a hero of mine as a kid thanks to my father. We were a Chicago Bulls household and I’m still a Bulls fan to this day.
These two unstoppable forces met in the Nike ads kicking off with Hare Jordan with Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan meeting on the court.
The film itself is not all that great, but is a nostalgia trip for many a 90’s kid. It’s a 100 minute slog, the animation is severely off, the plot is stupid and Jordan’s acting is on par with his baseball career.
Cut to 25 years later and the jam is back to forge a new legend, this time with LeBron James. King James is arguably legend as the Jordan equivalent with NBA championship wins with the Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers respectively.
At a meeting with Warner Bros, James rejects the idea for an AI technology called Warner 3000 that inserts viewers into WB properties via the Serververse created by Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle). Rhythm decides to kidnap James’ son Dom (Cedric Joe), a young video game designer, in retaliation forcing LeBron to go through the Serververse to find players for a basketball game against Rhythm’s Goon Squad.
James is sent straight to the rejected world of the Looney Tunes in which he meets with Bugs Bunny (voiced by Jeff Bergman). Bugs uses this to his advantage to trek to various worlds to reunite the Looney Tunes for a new Tune Squad and, hopefully, defeat Rhythm’s monstrous squad to save the day once more via the power of basketball.
A New Legacy does something the original did clunky as heck the first time around which is give a legitimate reason for the basketball. In the first film, the alien Nerdlucks are merely challenged by the Tunes due to their short stature. That’s the joke and then comes back to bite them in the ass as the aliens steal talents from actual NBA players.
Here, James’ son created a basketball video game with his father’s skill in mind. It becomes the battlefield for the Goon Squad vs. Tune Squad game and actually used effectively even if it does go off the rails at points, but allows from the Tunes to face off against ridiculous creations from a spider goon to a vulture goon called The Brow, which is a joke for the NBA fans.
The Tunes here are also closer to their short counterparts which was lacking in the original film for the most part. The animation of the Tunes in the traditional style is stellar with a lot of love given to them even when in other worlds. LeBron’s Tune character design is also stellar harkening back to how humans were drawn in the Merrie Melodies shorts.
It makes the CGI later seem lesser in the process, due unique and creative in its own right, but personally was not that into the CGI version. There is one animated segment in particular that is a love letter to 90’s WB animation that is a true standout in the film that makes me yearn for an animated Looney Tunes film.
Another standout is Don Cheadle who clearly knows this movie is not to be taken seriously in the slightest. Cheadle himself is charismatic in every scene and can be a bit of a deadpan snarker in some lines deliveries. The rest of the film does falter with humor, but moments with the Tunes, Cheadle and one particular cameo gave some of the biggest chuckles in the movie.
However, not everything here is dream team material. One particular is a problem the first film had lingering, but was never overbearing which is that this movie is one long ad.
Hope those watching have HBOMax because this is an ad for the service bar none. Personally, jumping from franchise to franchise is nothing new (Hi, Kingdom Hearts and comic books in general), but this is done in the form of a visual onslaught of references such as Austin Powers and The Matrix that no child would get while adults will find them too-farfetched and corny.
It’s essentially an Oscars “Put the Host in Popular Movies” opening taken to chaotic levels. This segment is not nearly as long as Twitter would have viewers think, but most of the IP barrage is regulated to being members of the audience at the basketball game ranging from Hanna-Barbera toons, Mr. Freeze, nuns from Ken Russell’s The Devils (holy shit, how?), and whatever WB has lying around in the archives.
This audience will result in paying more attention to the background which is hard in the CGI attack to the eyes in the forty minute long third act. So many random things happen during this part that its hard to keep track of. From thousand point scores, power-ups, Ernie Johnson and Lil Rel Howery as the commentary team, and a rap battle with Porky Pig dressed like E-40 as Twitter user @choloehotline said, it’s so much to take in.
That rap battle plus five separate jokes about Granny being cool show that the suits at Warner Bros. might be out of touch of what kids like. Granny even says “Haters gonna hate” and “I’m taking it old school” as if this was 2011, not 2021. It’s hokey and corny.
The voice acting is great with Eric Bauza and Bergmann putting in great effort while the usually great actor Zendaya phones it in as Lola Bunny unfortunately. Gabriel Iglesias as Speedy Gonzales is a fantastic choice, but barely gets any time to showcase the voice. The Tune that does get massive love and attention is Wile E. Coyote who doesn’t speak, yet remains hilarious even in the scene involving him stuck in the wasteland of Mad Max: Fury Road.
With all this said, things actually happened in this movie and that in itself is a step-up from the original bore of the 1996 film. It’s also a sequel to “Space Jam,” so this film much like the original is critic-proof.
“A New Legacy” sets its sights to carve out a new legend on the court, but misses the basket in some respects. There is visible improvement, but does fall far from being the MVP of the 2021 summer movie season.