Review by Sean Boelman
When Space Jam came out in 1996, it was a perfect storm of childhood nostalgia and one of the greatest athletes to ever live. Twenty-five years later, the sequel/reboot Space Jam: A New Legacy hopes to recapture that same lightning-in-a-bottle success, resulting in a generally funny adventure, even if it is an obvious bit of corporate synergy.
The film follows basketball player LeBron James, who must assemble a team of Looney Tunes characters to defeat a powerful artificial intelligence in a game of basketball. If the first movie’s premise of cartoon aliens from outer space trying to abduct Bugs Bunny and co. seemed ridiculous, this one about an evil algorithm running all of Warner Bros. endeavors is outright ludicrous. (At least it’s better than the actual evil CEO that ran Warner Bros. for years.)
Perhaps the biggest issue with the film is that it is nearly two hours, and there is no good reason for it to be that long. The basketball game itself, which comes in the second half, stretches on for a bit too much, but the part that really drags is the beginning, introducing the audience to the “Warner Bros. ServerVerse”. From when James begins to assemble the Tune Squad, it starts to be pretty fun.
Of course, the movie has the obligatory “be yourself” messaging that dominates films aimed at family audiences, but there is something interesting going on here about James’s journey as a father. The level of truth there is to this is questionable (the movie features a fictionalized son for James, not his actual children), but it comes across as mostly earnest.
The film makes the mistake of substituting the generally adorable villains of the original movie for a team of superpowered versions of real-life athletes. Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, Nneka Ogwumike, Klay Thompson, and Diana Taurasi all give relatively forgettable cameos compared to those that were in the first film.
However, Don Cheadle’s big bad makes up for any disappointment that the rest of the antagonists face. Although the writing of the character is often less than stellar, Cheadle is hamming it up and clearly enjoying the role. It’s a performance that gets crazier as it goes on, and it’s a lot of fun to watch.
Although the 3D animation of the Looney Tunes characters caused a lot of heat when the trailer was released, it’s not as distracting in the movie itself as one would think. Apart from some poor look-alikes in the backgrounds of shots to tease various WB properties, the film looks pretty solid, if overly busy.
Space Jam: A New Legacy is far more fun than anyone ever expected it to be, though that doesn’t make it any less of a cash grab. It takes a bit of time to get moving, but once it does, it’s plenty enjoyable.
Space Jam: A New Legacy hits theaters and HBO Max on July 16.