Space Jam: A New Legacy review

·4-min read
Photo credit: Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Even diehard Space Jam fans will likely admit that the 1996 cult classic is a bit rubbish, objectively speaking, but its charms lie in those rougher edges and it'll have a nostalgic hold on anybody who grew up with it.

It was a box-office hit, taking $250 million worldwide, and multiple attempts were made to develop a sequel, including one that swapped out Michael Jordan and basketball for Tiger Woods and golf. Yet it took until 2014 for Warner Bros to officially announce a sequel with LeBron James – and a further seven years for it actually to arrive.

Space Jam fans might want to check out the sequel out of curiosity, but as the title Space Jam: A New Legacy hints at, this is really more about bringing a new fanbase to this wacky world of Looney Tunes meets basketball. It's hard to imagine these fans holding the sequel in the same affection though.

Photo credit: Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

While the first movie was inspired by a Nike advert and effectively a feature-length commercial for the NBA and the Looney Tunes, it was still a Looney Tunes movie at its heart. Space Jam: A New Legacy forgets this and goes all Ready Player One with a visual assault of product placement.

The premise this time around is centred on LeBron James, rather than the Looney Tunes. He's trapped in Warner Bros Serververse by Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle), a rogue AI who LeBron offended by rejecting his Warner 3000 idea which could put LeBron in any Warner Bros property ever made.

So, to get revenge, Al-G Rhythm kidnaps LeBron's son Dom (Cedric Joe) and challenges LeBron to a basketball game. If he wins, he gets to leave, but if LeBron loses out to Al-G Rhythm's Goon Squad, he'll be trapped in the Serververse forever. There's only one team for it: the Tune Squad.

Photo credit: Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Putting aside the shoehorned-in basketball game (in the first movie, at least it made a logical sense), the setup initially just becomes the excuse for a cynical conveyor belt of Warner Bros' impressive collection of IPs. We won't spoil them all here, but there's some truly bizarre choices aimed at the adults that feel an odd tonal fit for a children's movie.

This would be easier to swallow if there were gags involved with the succession of crossovers, but often the appearance of another franchise is meant to be enough. It's like when a comedy brings in high-profile cameos and forgets to give them a joke to deliver, beyond 'Oh, look, it's that guy I recognise'.

It's all the more frustrating because there are flashes of the madcap humour of the first movie, including a truly inspired and hilarious cameo. When the big game finally kicks off, there is plenty of Looney Tunes madness to enjoy – as long as you ignore the bizarre appearances of Pennywise, the Droogs, the Night King and more villains in the crowd.

At least these sections of the movie have the Looney Tunes in them. It's a while before they pop up as A New Legacy sets up the fractured father-son relationship with LeBron and Dom, as well as the convoluted reasons for Al-G Rhythm's plot. Don Cheadle knows what movie he's in and has fun chewing the scenery, but everything else is a bit too dour and drags out an already-overlong runtime.

Photo credit: Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

It's more obvious as you know exactly where it's all going eventually and for whatever criticism you can throw at the first movie, it didn't waste any time. The sequel makes jokes about how everything is "awfully familiar" as it's the same story, down to similar twists in the big game, but even with this self-aware approach, they just do the same thing anyway.

As a result, Space Jam fans are likely better served rewatching the first movie and getting that nostalgic hit. Space Jam: A New Legacy might have fancier effects and fleeting moments of joy, but if you've spent 25 years waiting for it, it hasn't exactly been worth the wait.

Space Jam: A New Legacy is in cinemas on July 16, and will also be available to watch on HBO Max in the US.

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