SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY – an Alternative Lens review

Starring: LeBron James (Trainwreck), Don Cheadle (Iron Man 3), Cedric Joe, Khris Davis (Atlanta), Sonequa Martin-Green (Star Trek: Discovery), Jeff Bergman (New Looney Tunes), Eric Bauza (DuckTales), Zendaya (Spider-Man: Far From Home)

Director: Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip)

Writers: Juel Taylor (Creed II) & John Rettenmaier (Cabarete) & Keenan Coogler & Terence Nance (Random Acts of Flyness) and Jesse Gordon (Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and Celeste Ballard (Wrecked)

Runtime: 2 hours

Release Date: 16th July (US/HBO Max, UK)

Certain members of my generation are going to call blasphemy, but it needs to be said: Space Jam is not a good movie, and anyone saying it is unironically either haven’t seen it in years or are wearing the chunkiest nostalgia goggles in the world. I say that as a kid of the late 90s who grew up loving it, but its twenty-five years later now and I’m sorry, but the movie simply has not aged well. It’s tacky, nonsensical and nothing but a feature-length version of the shoe commercials that inspired it; a cinematic artefact of all the worst aspects of its generation. Still, it was a massive hit at the time and Warner Bros. has spent over two decades trying and failing to cash in on it. There were several aborted attempts at a successor, with pitches that teamed up the Looney Tunes with the likes of Jackie Chan, Jeff Gordon, Tiger Woods and Tony Hawk before eventually making the much-improved Looney Tunes: Back in Action…which was a box office flop that effectively ended their status as pop culture icons. But even after all that, the love for Space Jam has remained and fans continued to clamour for a true sequel. Those 90s kids have finally gotten their wish in the form of A New Legacy, and I can confidently say it is a very faithful sequel…in that it is also a tacky and nonsensical feature-length commercial.

Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021) - Rotten Tomatoes

If you start explaining the plot of Space Jam out loud, you quickly realised how utterly insane and haphazard the whole story is; it’s basically a MadLibs written by a nine-year-old on a sugar high that someone spent $80 million turning into a movie. In that respect, A New Legacy carries on the tradition with its own equally bizarre narrative but at least tries to mine some depth out of it. At its core, it’s a basic father-and-son story that you’ve seen play out in dozens of sitcoms, and the resulting tension and resolution goes exactly how you’d think with no major twists. There are hints at something deeper, like how LeBron James takes out his childhood insecurities on his family and teammates, or Bugs Bunny’s implied depression and desperation to reunite with his friends, but none of these ever really develop into anything important.

I will give the film some points for at least trying to have a coherent message and emotional sincerity compared to the original, but it’s ultimately far more concerned with cramming in as much iconography from the Warner Bros. catalogue as possible. Some of the cameos are chuckle-worthy and have some logic to what they’ve been mashed-up with, but most are just the same tired jokes and references you’ve heard a million times before, whilst others are totally random and there simply because they can be; trust me, there are some truly bonkers appearances that will make your jaw drop in confusion. A New Legacy is often a film too shameless and surreal not to be entertaining on some morbid level, but the corporatisation of the entire production always scuppers every chance it has to be harmless dumb fun.

ODEON - Space Jam 2 – LeBron James' Space Jam: A New Legacy trailer  breakdown
LeBron James as himself and Bugs Bunny (voiced by Jeff Bergman) in SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY (2021, d. Malcolm D. Lee)

It’s a well-worn adage that the film even remarks upon that athletes don’t tend to make good actors (and no, professional wrestlers don’t count, because they’re already essentially actors). Michael Jordan certainly didn’t break that streak in the original Space Jam, and whilst LeBron James showed promise with his debut performance in Trainwreck, A New Legacy proves that was likely just good direction and writing. James certainly doesn’t lack charisma and at least seems like he’s having a good time, but his performance often feels mechanical and simulated in much the same way athletes are in promos or adverts. On the opposite end, Don Cheadle goes full tilt as the villainous computer program Al-G Rhythm and ends up acting more like a cartoon than the actual Looney Tunes. It’s a performance lacking in any subtlety and seems almost bad on purpose, as if Cheadle signed on under the belief this was a FunnyOrDie skit and never realised his mistake. It’s a performance as incoherent and confusing as the character’s evil plan itself, which makes the first film’s “kidnap cartoon characters to be slaves at my theme park” scheme seem logical by comparison. Cedric Joe is decent by child actor standards as James’ neglected son Dom, but Sonequa Martin-Green and Khris Davis are practically afterthoughts as his wife and best friend respectively. There are a few other celebrity cameos sprinkled throughout and they end up giving some of the best performances in the movie, though none are quite as shocking and unreal as Bill Murray showing up out-of-nowhere in the fourth quarter.

One of the biggest criticisms of the original Space Jam was that it was unfaithful to a lot of the core tenants of the Looney Tunes, turning them from icons of slapstick animation into yet more pop culture-quoting mascots with bad 90s “attitude”. A New Legacy at first seems to rectify this, bringing the characters back to their roots and treating the characters with the respect they deserve. However, by the time the basketball game comes around, all that quickly goes out the window as we’re treated to the likes of Granny shouting modern slang or the Tunes engaging in a rap battle (yes, seriously, this is an extended sequence that comes out of nowhere and serves no real purpose). The voice acting is at least solid for the majority of the characters, even if it never quite matches the original vocals of Mel Blanc and company. There are again a few cameos from other cartoon characters (some who speak and other who don’t), but the only major celebrity member of the animated cast is Zendaya as the new voice of Lola Bunny. Whilst the filmmakers certainly made the right call dialling back the sexist fan-service nature of the character, it leaves Lola as something of an empty vessel with no looniness to speak of and little purpose in the plot other than to be the Tune Squad’s lone decent player besides James. Zendaya may be a delightful and talented actress, but she alone cannot turn such a nothing character into something memorable.

Space Jam: A New Legacy Reveals First Details About Don Cheadle's Villain
Cedric Joe as Dominic “Dom” James and Don Cheadle as Al-G Rhythm in SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY (2021, d. Malcolm D. Lee)

There is a lot about the original Space Jam that’s dated badly, but none more so than its effects. For some it was their first experience of a live-action/animation hybrid, but one only has to look at Who Framed Roger Rabbit from eight years prior to see it was subpar even at the time. Visual effects have obviously improved massively in the twenty-five years since, and A New Legacy will likely have a longer technical lifespan that its forebearer, but aesthetically it’s even more of a treacly mess. The entire film is an over-saturated, high-contrast eye sore packed to the brim with endless references to Warner Bros. IP that only makes the film look like even more of a commercial. This might have been OK if this colour grading was a way to visually differentiate between the Server-Verse and reality, but even the scenes set in the real world have the same garish palette.

It’s nice to see a solid chunk of the film is entirely 2D animated, even if the animation itself is barely a grade above TV quality, but it at least retains the energy of the original cartoons. However, the Tunes’ 3D counterparts are far less pleasing and have little of the charm of their traditional designs; they would have been far better off sticking to 2D throughout. Another iconic aspect of the original was its soundtrack packed with hits from Seal, Coolio, Salt-N-Pepa and *groan followed by facepalm* R. Kelly that still define the 90s for many. In contrast, there isn’t a single track in New Legacy that stands out within the film, and the score from Kris Bowers isn’t particularly memorable either. Scrolling through the track list and its solid collection of artists, some of the songs are decent, but none of them are intrinsically connected to scenes from the movie in the way “Fly Like an Eagle” or “Hit ‘Em High” are in the original. I mean, c’mon, not even a horrible techno-rap cover of the original Quad City DJs theme or something? At least I might remember that.

Space Jam: A New Legacy is an irritating ode to corporate synergy and  profit margins
LeBron James with Lola Bunny (voiced by Zendaya) and Daffy Duck (voiced by Eric Bauza) in SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY (2021, d. Malcolm D. Lee)

If Space Jam is a cringey encapsulation of 90s Hollywood excess, A New Legacy is the 2021 remix that will be looked on by future generations with similar derision. Essentially a two-hour HBO Max commercial that makes Ready Player One look like classic literature, only those with the strongest of sweet tooths will find anything flavourful or nutritious here. There are brief flashes of promise that demonstrate the filmmakers were at least attempting to tell a story, but none of it matters when every frame is just product placement. It is a film that needs to be seen to be believed, and I’d almost recommend watching it simply so others can witness its baffling glory, but otherwise there isn’t anything of value here. Now please, kids of today: don’t fall in love with this movie like my generation did with the first one and, if you do, please don’t make me watch a third one another quarter-century from now.


Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

One thought on “SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY – an Alternative Lens review”

  1. Hmmm. But sometimes you know you’re getting an 8year olds sugar high and so it’s okay.
    I also loved Cheadle’s Funny Or Die vibe – some of his best work is as Captain Planet on FOD.
    But I am always entertained when I love of film for pretty much the same reason others dislike it. I enjoyed it, simple skit based comedy and a WB showcase. Although the start dragged on a bit.

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