"Space Jam: A New Legacy" stars LeBron James, Don Cheadle, Sonequa Martin-Green, Cedric Joe, Khris Davis, Jeff Bergman, Eric Bauza, and Zendaya. Released on July 16, 2021, the film is about a basketball player who teams up with the Looney Tunes to rescue his son.
The film was directed by Malcolm D. Lee, who also directed films such as "The Best Man", "Undercover Brother", "Barbershop: The Next Cut", and "Girls Trip". It is a standalone sequel to the 1996 film "Space Jam". The 1990s was a pretty exciting decade that's filled with many memorable events. The World Wide Web became hugely popular, kids were into all things radical, and a sheep was cloned. But there is one 90s element that stood out above the rest. One that genuinely defines the people that were born from that decade, including me. That, my friends, is Michael Jordan playing basketball with the Looney Tunes. "Space Jam" was the type of film that seemed ridiculously bizarre on paper but wound up being something special when it was released upon the world 25 years ago. With its good old-fashioned Looney Tunes charm and impressive blend of live-action and animation, the film became a cult hit for basketball lovers and fans of the classic cartoons alike. It's not an Oscar-winning film by any means, but it did show that some crazy ideas can reward you with success. After the success of "Space Jam", several sequel plans were planned out that would've seen the return of Jordan and starred the likes of Jackie Chan, Tiger Woods, and even Tony Hawk, but all of them were scrapped due to the lack of Jordan and the poor box office performance of "Looney Tunes: Back in Action". Many years later, Warner Brothers put the sequel back on track. This time, with Los Angeles Lakers player LeBron James as its primary lead. There were multiple reasons why I was looking forward to this latest sequel. I grew up watching "Space Jam" and the Looney Tunes, and I was interested in the concept it introduced in the trailers, which had the same vibe as Steven Spielberg's "Ready Player One". Not to mention the involvement of director Malcolm D. Lee and producer Ryan Coogler from "Black Panther" fame. If those reasons aren't enough to sell me and its target audience, I don't know what will. Now that it's here, does it serve as a welcoming big-screen return for the wacky characters, or are we better off watching regular basketball instead? Let's head down to the court and find out.
Like its predecessor, which centered on a fictionalized version of Michael Jordan, the story in "A New Legacy" focuses on the film version of LeBron James. The plot follows him as a global basketball icon who attempts to convince his youngest son Dom (Joe) to follow in his footsteps. However, Dom only wants to be a video game designer instead. During a father/son trip at the Warner Brothers studio, LeBron and Dom get themselves sucked into a virtual space world known as the Warner 3000 Server-Verse, where each world houses a major Warner Brothers property. LeBron later encounters the tyrannical leader of the cyber world named Al-G Rhythm (Cheadle), who's holding Dom hostage. To rescue his son and return home, LeBron will have to reunite the Looney Tunes, including Bugs Bunny (Bergman) and Lola Bunny (Zendaya), and win a basketball match set by Al-G Rhythm. While the plot is undoubtedly similar to its predecessor, which involves playing basketball with the Looney Tunes, "A New Legacy" introduced plenty of new elements to make it more fresh and exciting for a new generation of fans, most notably the film's setting. Instead of having the basketball action take place in an underground cartoon world like the first film, the sequel took it a step further by placing it in a huge universe inside a computer. It makes me wonder why they didn't call the film "Cyberspace Jam" instead. In my personal opinion, I enjoyed this new setting more than the original because it allowed the film to have fun with the studio's properties and how the characters interact with them, most notably LeBron and the Looney Tunes. Although, it does appear that it's nothing but Warner Brothers constantly saying, "Look at all of the wonderful stuff we owned that you can watch on HBO Max!". Looney Tunes, DC, Game of Thrones, even the flipping Iron Giant! You name it. This film has it. In other words, it's one big advertisement for the streaming service with a father/son storyline stuck in the middle of it. It's the type of universe that I honestly wouldn't mind revisiting via a series of shorts. Putting the setting aside for a bit, how do I feel about the story? Well, I can tell you one thing: the narrative in "A New Legacy" was a bit better regarding its structure. The filmmakers made some effort to make it more than just a full-length commercial of James's popularity and the studio behind the film. However, that doesn't make it a better movie (or sequel, in this case) by default. Like the first film, the story in "A New Legacy" is strictly cliched and featured plenty of moments that were either corny, surreally random, or even both. So if you don't like "Space Jam" because of that, then there's no way you're going to like what the sequel had to offer. There were also some pacing issues that didn't give me enough time to be engaged in the characters' relationships, primarily LeBron and Dom. Since the film is surprisingly longer than the original, that deserves a technical foul. Despite those setbacks, it still maintained the goofy charm and entertaining sports action that made "Space Jam" a hit in the first place. Sure, it's mid-tier family fluff, but it's an enjoyable mid-tier family fluff that's filled with flashy visuals and plenty of blink-and-you'll-miss-them cameos. While the plot missed a few three-pointers, it did deliver a very relatable message about the importance of being yourself and allowing others to do the same. It's always crucial to do what you love doing the most in your life and, more importantly, have fun doing it, which played a crucial role in LeBron's journey. It's something that I think should be taught repeatedly to kids so they can find the confidence in themselves to feel the same way, whether a film is great or not. The cast themselves were passable for the most part due to their noticeable efforts in making the film entertaining. LeBron James got a chance to shine in the main lead for the first time after playing supporting roles in "Trainwreck" and "Smallfoot", another film from Warner Animation Group. Unfortunately, much like Michael Jordan in the first film, his acting abilities weren't as memorable as his skills on the court. He was respectable to watch, but there were many moments where his performance as himself came off as bland and unenthusiastic. I would still give the guy credit for making himself known outside of his basketball career, even though his efforts don't go the way he expected. I would also cut him some slack because I understand that he can't be good at everything besides basketball, not even acting. The rest of the cast happened to be a bit better than James, especially Don Cheadle as Al-G Rhythm. Cheadle was one of the best parts of the film, in my opinion, because of the energetic and charming appeal he brought to the antagonist, who will stop at nothing to earn respect. Zendaya also did well as the voice of Lola Bunny, who was previously voiced by Kath Soucie in the original. She was able to bring plenty of spunk to a Looney Tunes character who's not afraid to play with the big boys. As for the voice cast for the other Looney Tunes characters, ranging from Jeff Bergman as Bugs to Gabriel Iglesias as Speedy Gonzales, they're unsurprisingly delightful from start to finish. It's what I expected from those charismatic Tunes, and I was not disappointed. The animation and visual effects were also pretty solid, primarily for the Server-Verse and the video-game-like basketball match in its third act. The 2D animation in Tune World and DC World were eye-catching and vibrant, and the CGI effects were suitably imaginative, albeit a tad overabundant for the senses. Even the 3D designs for the Tunes and the Goon Squad, the film's new opposing team, were quite impressive. The film's brand of humor was unapologetically quirky, random, and at times self-referential. Because of that, it was able to be just as fun and hilarious as its bizarre concept. Some jokes may not be slam dunks, but they worked well enough to provide some harmless laughs.
Overall, "Space Jam: A New Legacy" delivers plenty of entertainment values to keep the crowd cheering, but despite its noticeable efforts, it failed to live up to its intended legacy. Like its predecessor, the film embraced its energetic silliness to carry its flawed story to victory. Although, it can also prove to be a product-heavy headache for those who didn't want the sequel in the first place. The supporting cast, visuals, and humor have enough charm and giggles to please a new generation of Looney Tunes fans, young and old. However, its corny by-the-numbers screenplay, inconsistent pacing, and LeBron James's so-so performance prevented this family-friendly follow-up from being a perfect big-screen comeback for the beloved cartoon characters. As expected, it's not an award-winning masterpiece like "Casablanca", but it's also not as terrible as some critics make it out to be. It's another film that's only made for entertaining its audience and nothing else. If you enjoy the Looney Tunes and liked "Space Jam" for what it was, you might get some enjoyment out of "A New Legacy". Otherwise, you're better off playing basketball in real life.