Released: 15th July
Seen: 12th August
In 1992 there was a series of Superbowl commercials involving Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny, and they were a smash hit. They were so popular that they effectively revived the world’s interest in Bugs Bunny, which at the time was on somewhat of a downhill slide. This led to Warner Brothers having the wild idea to take these commercials and turn them into a movie. That movie was Space Jam and it was a mega hit, raking in 250 million worldwide with a soundtrack that I promise you was everywhere.
I was there, you couldn’t escape the Space Jam theme song or I Believe I Can Fly (Which… yeah, kinda helped a rapist stay out of prison where he belonged, we were distracted by this song). This album won awards, went 6x platinum, it was everywhere. Space Jam was astronomically huge, albeit critically panned and most people recognise it more as a harmless guilty pleasure than anything else… and now, 25 years later, they made a sequel that no one was asking for – and apparently decided it’d be fun to try and make a film that was actively bad instead of just kinda silly.
Space Jam: A New Legacy changes the focus of the Space Jam franchise (oh god this is a franchise now!) to LeBron James, current greatest basketball player alive (according to this movie anyway, don’t ask me cos I know nothing about basketball other than it involves baskets and balls) trying to teach his son Dom (Cedric Joe) how to play basketball. Sure he also has a second kid but that kid doesn’t matter, it’s all about Dom because Dom likes playing basketball but he LOVES designing video games, to the point where he has even made his own fully animated 3D Basketball video game on his home computer by himself in his spare time, no one tell this movie that game creation is not that easy because you’ll make the movie cry.
Anyway, in an attempt to connect with Dom (because talking like a normal person is hard, apparently) LeBron takes Dom with him to a meeting on the Warner Brothers lot and at some point they get separated and Dom walks right into a giant server room that apparently contains every single movie that Warner Brothers has ever made. Because of reasons, Dom and LeBron get sucked into the server where they meet Al-G Rhythm (Don Chedle), the put upon Warner Brothers algorithm whose ideas keep being rejected (don’t think about it, your head will hurt too much).
Al-G Rhythm splits Dom and LeBron up and tries to bond with Dom, while also telling LeBron that if LeBron can beat him in a basketball game that he can win his son back and go back to the real world. LeBron is then sent through the Server verse to Toon World where he runs into Bugs Bunny (Jeff Bergman) who tells LeBron that he needs to reassemble the old Toon Squad so that they can come together to help him win the game and save… well, what he needs to save keeps changing because this movie is somehow both incredibly convoluted and not well thought out, which makes for an exhausting watching experience.
Look, no one could fairly state that they walked into Space Jam: A New Legacy with high expectations. The original Space Jam was a legendary joke of a film that people saw in huge numbers but also generally acknowledged that it wasn’t great. We all knew Michael Jordan wasn’t a great actor, we knew the characters felt off, it was weird that Lola Bunny was basically there to be a sexy bunny, we all kind of acknowledged that but we went with it because Space Jam still had a sense of fun about it somewhere among the chaotic mess… Space Jam: A New Legacy somehow feels like more of an advertisement than the original, which was literally only made because a commercial was popular.
Throughout Space Jam: A New Legacy we are shown glimpses into the Warner Brothers vault of content and when the film actually uses that content to try and have some fun, it almost works. I laughed when I saw Granny playing around in The Matrix universe, it’sfun to see Road Runner living his best life in the Mad Max universe. When we actually go into some old Warner Brothers films but see the Looney Tunes as part of those various worlds there’s some joy to be found here… that lasts for roughly the length of a montage when they go to collect the characters with minimal effort. Oh, right, Space Jam: A New Legacy does the “The gang split up” thing with some heavy gravitas and gets over it within about 3 minutes and any conflict between the toons is never brought up again until the unearned emotional climax.
Then there’s the actual game itself, the scenes everyone saw from the trailers where the court is surrounded by characters from assorted films that Warner Brothers own (including, most hilariously, characters from Clockwork Orange and The Devils, which is a film you can’t find on any streaming service at all!) that feels like it’s there purely so people can make Youtube videos naming who is in the audience… none of these characters even remotely impact the main plot, that would at least be entertaining. Nope, they just stand there as advertisements for the content on WB’s streaming platform (except for The Devils which, again, not available on any streaming service).
So none of the properties outside of the Looney Tunes are well used, but how are the actual Looney Tunes used? Also not that well, for the most part. Sure they have their moments, Granny gets a few good jokes, Bugs is pretty hard to screw up and even Foghorn Leghorn gets a couple of good jokes but everyone else just feels off. Lola Bunny has practically no character, which was barely OK in the first one but in the 25 years since she got a serious upgrade in personality that they refuse to use (and her eyes look so messed up when she’s made into a 3D animated character), the other Looney Tunes are kind of just thrown about without care for using them to make good jokes or even cheesy ones. They just kind of exist as this amorphous blob of cartoons who can do anything, but none of it is that funny.
That right there is probably the biggest sin of Space Jam: A New Legacy, it is just not that funny. Are there moments of comedy? Sure, most of them coming from Al G Rhythm (because I’m convinced Don Chedle just went off on his own tangent and everyone else had to keep up with him, he’s the highlight of the entire movie) and one particularly clever joke around the third act that involves Michael Jordan (in some form) but other than that… no, I spent so little of Space Jam: A New Legacy laughing that it’s kind of stunning. You have the entirety of the Warner Brothers catalogue to play with and you do nothing with it? Really? If you’re going to be an elaborate HBONow advertisement, at least be one that makes it look cool.
Speaking of looking cool… we have found a worse performance than Michael Jordan’s in the original Space Jam. Sure, no one would ever accuse Michael of giving a good performance, but at least he looked like he wanted to be there and had enough pure charisma and charm that I went with what he was offering. LeBron has none of that, he exists and spends the entire movie being a giant stick in the mud. I don’t recall laughing at him once, he drains the energy right out of the frame whenever he’d try and interact with anyone. Even when he was a literal animated cartoon, he was dull as hell and I couldn’t believe he made me long for Michael Jordan to turn up and show off how to do this right.
What’s sad is that there was something resembling potential here, at least for something goofy and fun. You have the Looney Tunes and the ability to throw them in any part of the Warner Brothers catalogue and you can’t even do it for longer than a montage… come on, come the hell on. Warner Brothers has been around since 1918, there is a century of film you could play with and you barely touched any of it except when you needed background extras to stand and cheer on a game without doing anything… why not just have some of the Looney Tunes sub in one of the other characters, have a gag where Pennywise plays basketball for a minute, could you not pull that off? If you’re going to show me you have all the toys, do something interesting with them or don’t bother.
Hell, Space Jam: A New Legacy sets things up that could’ve made for interesting ideas and never do them. Early on in the film when LeBron is making up his list of characters that he wants on his team, The Iron Giant and King Kong are on that list and those two characters are prominently shown to be part of the audience. A person who wants to have fun and sees the obvious potential of this moment would find a way to get King Kong or Iron Giant onto that field, even just to subvert the expectations by having them fail… nope, they’re just off in the audience somewhere and used for exactly one joke when someone says “King Kong ain’t got nothing on me” and King Kong hears that and sulks. This kind of thing happens way more than it should.
Oh, almost forgot the moment of strobing that happens about an hour in when they drag some people from the real world into the seververse… like, strobing that was intense enough that I’m just glad I had to watch Space Jam: A New Legacy at home on a small TV instead of in a cinema where that strobing could have caused some serious headaches. I will never ever stop calling this out and the fact it seems to keep happening in films aimed towards children really just sickens me to my very core. As though I didn’t already have enough problems with this film, I get to throw “legitimate health hazard” on the pile of problems that’re mounting
Practically nothing about Space Jam: A New Legacy works (except Don Chedle, someone get that man a chiropractor because his back has to be killing after carrying this film all by himself!). I don’t even have the capacity to go into everything about it that’s wrong, from the choppy editing to the complete lack of any internal consistency to the boring and awful soundtrack to the long list of other serious problems that plague this film. I could, I really could and believe me I’m so damn tempted to, but this review is already longer than Space Jam: A New Legacy deserves. I do not get how you mess up this bad, the expectations weren’t high to begin with (it’s a sequel to SPACE JAM for christ sakes!) but instead of stepping over them, this film grabbed a shovel and started digging.
I wanted to enjoy Space Jam: A New Legacy, I wanted to enjoy Warner Brothers doing random stuff with their toys and mixing them together in fun ways. I wanted to enjoy a silly mindless movie about a basketball game involving players I didn’t know and cartoon characters I grew up with… instead, I got 2 hours of shocked exhaustion and anger at how much this film doesn’t even rise to the level of a film I readily admit is not good. There are rumors that they might try another sequel, this time with The Rock in the lead…please don’t, just let this thing die.