Space Jam: A New Legacy Synopsis: Superstar LeBron James and his young son, Dom, get trapped in digital space by a rogue AI (Don Cheadle). To get home safely, LeBron teams up with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the rest of the Looney Tunes gang for a high-stakes basketball game against the AI’s digitized champions of the court.
Love it or hate it, Space Jam’s campy cartoon energy felt like a perfect encapsulation of the 90’s sensibility. The Michael Jordan-led Looney Toon’s crossover was rampant with slapstick silliness and garish style choices, but there was ultimately something endearing about it shamelessly earnest energy. The movie’s self-aware design accomplished its exact goals for energized younger viewers, with the film still holding a strong reverence with that nostalgic core audience today.
Ironically enough, the long-awaited follow-up, Space Jam: A New Legacy, feels similarly defined by its current zeitgeist. Switching one Hall of Fame hooper for another, this busy sequel breathlessly combines the original film’s formula with a vast array of Warner Brothers IPs. It may not be the cynical abomination others are making it out to be, but Space Jam: A New Legacy never strives for more than studio-crafted mediocrity.
To the film’s credit, certain elements do elevate the cartoonish mania. LeBron James boasts an easy-going charisma and playful comedic touch as a superstar protagonist facing life-defining challenges on and off the court. The writing restricts James to everyman pleasantness, but that doesn’t stop his affable presence from radiating across the screen. In a role most would mug through, Don Cheadle imbues vibrant energy into the villainous AI-G Rhythm. He presents con man swagger with exuberance and wit, giving audiences a foe that they truly love to hate.
Space Jam: A New Legacy has drawn ire from online pundits, and I’m still not sure exactly why. The film admirably replicates the zany Looney Toons aesthetic of past generations, never taking itself too seriously aside from your typical schmaltzy family melodrama. Director Malcolm D. Lee endured a challenging production process (he was hired midway through the shoot), but his assured studio comedy touch plays most of the right notes. Even at a wholly unnecessary 2-hour runtime, Lee briskly races from visual gag to setpiece with enough earnest craftsmanship to prevent boredom.
Saying I didn’t hate the movie isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. Legacy is consistently diverting, yet its devoid of passion and a creative vision. Six writers collaborated on this aimless hodgepodge of family family mechanics, sprinkling the flat narrative contrivances with a hardy helping of recognized IPs. I don’t think incoporating established brands is without promise (Ready Player One showed the imaginative mania that could render from vast icons). It’s just never executed with much cohesion or brevity. The constant array of bad references (ranging from Citzen Kane to Austin Powers) makes the film feel like a cynical byproduct of executive meetings. Instead of self-refrential barbs, the screenwriters simply rely on pop culture references as a means of comedic gags. The results are a collection of chuckles, airball misses, and flat out bizarre gags that lack a cohesive voice (its geared towards kids, but a majority of the references are adult-oriented).
I would be able to forgive some of Legacy’s misgivings if the film didn’t look so soulless. For a massive 160-million dollar production, Legacy presents no dynamism or verve in its AI-driven landscape. The drab colors and oppressively artificial effects work to create an empty void devoid of vivid tendencies. Considering the Looney Toons dependence on detailed animation design, a majority of their gags feel like lifeless imitations. Plenty of straightforward family films have coasted off strong aesthetic design (Spy Kids is a classic for its surreal landscape). Here, the lack of vibrancy sinks a pedestrian story from ever discovering its spark.
Space Jam: A New Legacy lands as a competent and completely inoffensive kid-centric adventure. Younger viewers should be mildly amused, but the lack of ingenuity or charm prevents interest for older crowds. I will say, for a convenient HBO Max viewing, you could certainly do worse.
Space Jam: A New Legacy is now playing in theaters and on HBO Max.
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