- “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is entertaining, but messy in spots. It’s also too long.
- Still, LeBron James is a better actor than Michael Jordan.
- Warning: Spoilers ahead for “Space Jam: A New Legacy.”
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Sorry Michael Jordan, but LeBron James wins this game.
Comparisons between the Jordan-led “Space Jam” (1996) and James’ “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” out in theaters and on HBO Max on Friday, are inevitable. Both movies have very similar plots, each featuring one of the biggest basketball players of their time.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” follows James as he and his fictional son Dom (Cedric Joe) are stuck inside a computer server-universe controlled by the manipulative Warner Bros. artificial intelligence software Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle).
Like Jordan in the original film, James is forced to team up with Bugs Bunny (voiced by Jeff Bergman), Lola Bunny (voiced by Zendaya), Sylvester (also voiced by Bergman), and the rest of the “Looney Tunes” crew to play a high-stakes basketball game against Al-G and his team.
James delivers a stronger acting performance than Jordan
“Space Jam” was a commercial success, making over $200 million in the global box office, but Jordan’s subpar acting chops didn’t exactly earn positive reviews from movie critics then, who said the NBA star acted “wooden” in the film. James, however, is a better actor than his predecessor despite spending a good chunk of the movie as a cartoon. (Jordan remained live-action throughout the ’90s version.) He’s not a good actor, but he’s certainly better at it than Jordan and it’s genuinely endearing watching James struggle while trying to bond with his onscreen son.
Despite James’ star power and charisma, the real stars of the movie are Cheadle, an occasionally funny line in the script, and the “Looney Tunes” cartoons.
The cartoon characters make a nostalgic comeback in the sequel, bringing back all of their decades-old antics like painting fake tunnels on the side of a mountain.
Still, a few things are noticeably different.
Not only is the sequel less about basketball, but “A New Legacy” also has some mature themes that might’ve been missing from the 1996 movie. For instance, Granny (voiced by Candi Milo) from “Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries” is seen enjoying a martini.
Lola Bunny is also desexualized in the sequel, compared to the Jordan-led “Space Jam,” where the bunny is seen wearing a crop top and hip-hugging shorts. The 2021 version wastes no time making that point. Lola’s first scene is less about her look and more about sending a message that she’s the most capable athlete in the “Looney Tunes” crew. You immediately root for her.
Despite these changes, “A New Legacy” heavily relies on “Looney Tunes” nostalgia and maybe even anticipates that the children who watched and enjoyed “Space Jam” in 1996 will be back as adults to watch the sequel.
The latest movie is filled with skits that older “Looney Tunes” viewers will instantly recognize: Bugs eating a carrot, Sylvester unsuccessfully resisting trying to eat Tweety (voiced by Bob Bergen), and the Tasmanian Devil (voiced Jim Cummings) spinning into a vortex that sucks up everything in its path.
Except in this film, Bugs briefly gets drunk while chatting with James.
Other bright spots in a cast that’s stacked with cartoons and NBA stars include Cedric Joe and Sonequa Martin-Green, who are delightful in their roles as Dom and James’ on-screen wife, Kamiyah, along with Cheadle as Al-G.
Al-G is a villain with no backstory and you don’t need one to take an instant liking to him anyway. Above all, Al-G wants to be taken seriously which is, frankly, a ridiculous request because he’s a character in “A New Legacy,” a movie that works best when it leans into its silly premise.
The script tries to make the most of the movie’s ridiculous yet entertaining plot with hilarious one-liners like Bugs saying it “sounds awfully familiar” when the cartoon rabbit is asked to play basketball with an NBA superstar. It’s just as funny watching Al-G tell the 6’9″-tall James, “I thought you’d be taller” when the two meet for the first time.
Sadly, the movie fumbles the ball more than once
Despite earnest performances by its cast (both real and cartoon), “A New Legacy” tries to cram so much into the plot yet only has a total running time of two hours.The movie, produced and distributed by Warner Bros., includes a dozen too many nods to other movies and TV shows from the studio like “Games of Thrones,” “Harry Potter,” “The Flintstones,” and, bafflingly, “The Matrix” series.
In a busy montage, each “Looney Tunes” character is given a movie-star introduction, featuring scenes recreated from various Warner Bros. movies.
Unfortunately for the viewer, you are not given a moment to enjoy the references because the film has already moved on to the next scene in the sequence. It’s confusing and feels like a messy vanity project for the studio.
For most of “A New Legacy,” the script avoids being messy by finding the right balance between being silly and being serious, but it stops being entertaining whenever it leans too far in either direction.
A few people around me laughed at a conversation between Kamiyah and James during the climactic basketball game even though the exchange is meant to be tense.Despite some missteps, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” has the potential to keep the audience engaged and ends with a plot twist that many will see coming from a mile away. Still, viewers should stick around for it anyway – for nostalgia’s sake.
“A New Legacy” is an entertaining one-time watch.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” is in theaters and on HBO Max July 16.