24 years ago, we slammed and, consequently, were welcomed to the jam: Michael Jordan and the cavalcade of Looney Tunes against the alien vermin of the Monstars headed by an intergalactic Goodfellas-style Danny Devito. It became the highest-grossing basketball film of all time, and despite mixed reviews from critics, it became a nostalgic favourite of two generations – it also had a lot of questionable-to-unshowable fanart of certain characters which we won’t get into. Regardless, the bizarrely unique premise worked for a lot of people, and it never lost that Looney Tunes sentimentality – it leant into its wackiness and goofiness, and I think that’s what fans of the film remember about it most. The image of Michael Jordan’s arm impossibly stretching about a mile into the net will haunt me forever, for better or worse. Now, we’re here with Space Jam: A New Legacy – so how does this new legacy hold up to the old guard?
Not very well. Rather than directly continuing from the original, Malcolm D. Lee instead decides to make a standalone continuation that also constantly winks-and-nods at the original, in what can only be an attempt at a fun meta-joke that a sequel to Space Jam even exists. The level of lampshade hanging that the six writers (yes, there are somehow six) subscribe to in order to attempt to get you on the sequel’s side only serves to heighten your disbelief, rather than suspend it. What are they trying to suspend you from? Well, the twist this time is that everyone from Warner Brothers is here, not just the Looney Tunes. The Matrix, Mad Max, Rick and Morty, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones – if you could name the property, the trailers and promos promised they would be involved in some way or another. Except they’re not. There are so many WB properties and worlds that are teased and then moved on from in less than 10 seconds – LeBron points out Harry Potter world, makes a reference to Hufflepuff, then we move on; Foghorn Leghorn rides a dragon out of Westeros to greet us, and we move past it. This dogpiling of properties was a very reluctant twist, so the hope was that there would be such an absurd involvement of them that it would amount to the kind of looney insanity that the Tunes are known for that it involves a child-like playfulness. Perhaps Pennywise would be dribbling on the court against LeBron, or the Road Runner steals the ball from Neo’s Matrix-style blocking.
But no, they serve as nothing more than expensive CGI set dressing. It’s a struggle to understand how this film needs SIX writers if the simplicity of slotting Looney Tunes into these universes is nothing more than rotoscoped cameos that seem lazy at best. There is a severe irony to the fact that a villainous algorithm is to be stopped as the central fight of Space Jam 2, when it feels like an algorithm could’ve, and perhaps did, make this film. It doesn’t even feel like thought was put into what Tunes belong in what universes, but rather they were mindlessly scattered into what could be marketed best. It’s a wonder who this film is actually for – because children won’t understand a lot of these references to Casablanca or The Matrix, and yet for adults the references and “cameos”, if you can even call them that, are far too basic and derivative to even come close to being entertaining. This feels like an over-extended advert for the Warner Brothers library than it does an actual film.
A New Legacy also feels remarkably similar in structure to its predecessor – especially the third act, even to the point of recycling a joke or two. LeBron’s passable as himself, but he doesn’t carry the same charm or charisma as Michael Jordan did, and the animation/live-action blend has this overtly computer-generated gloss to it that makes it all feel artificial rather than a merging of the animated and the real that the original was commended for. Don Cheadle seems to be the only person who fully understands the assignment, throwing his all into the wacky, over-the-top caricature of Al-G Rhythm, the villainous algorithm hell-bent on… absorbing LeBron’s followers into himself so he can escape? His motivations aren’t entirely clear, but it’s obvious that Cheadle is just having some fun here. He’s a great foil to the heroic, but buffoonish Tunes precisely because he reflects that animated, manic composure – the same can’t really be said for anyone else.
I was concerned this would feel similar to Ready Player One rather than a Looney Tunes film, but it actually fails to become either. Ready Player One, for all its faults, at least actively engaged in the properties it dealt with – The Shining’s Overlook Hotel sequence still is a delight to watch, but nothing in Space Jam: A New Legacy even comes close to a scene like that. This is Looney Tunes, so why aren’t we getting Looney and Tuney? It feels far too dramatic, serious and ultimately bores you with its remarkably basic life lessons – learn to be yourself, don’t let others decide who you are; yes, these are important lessons but they’re not conveyed in an interesting way. Ultimately, Space Jam: A New Legacy feels like it’s stuck in the 90s for all the wrong reasons.
Space Jam: A New Legacy premieres in theaters on July 16th.