Movie review: 'Space Jam: A New Legacy'
There’s a problem comparing Space Jam: A New Legacy to the original Space Jam. I could say the new movie lives up to old one; but the thing is, despite its popularity over the last quarter century, the verdict of whether or not it’s any good is still very much undecided.
That’s always been a bit of a mystery to me, however, because the original Space Jam is fine. It’s a movie for kids, and I was actually a bit old for it when it first came out, but I remember smaller kids than me absolutely loved it, so instant pass right there. Target audience likes it, you win. I rewatched it last year while binging a bunch of Looney Tunes stuff while in pandemic lockdown. I enjoyed it. Lots of the jokes held up. You’re a comedy. You make me laugh. There’s another instant pass. It’s fine. That’s my mini stealth review of the original Space Jam in my Space Jam: A New Legacy review. So you got two Space Jam reviews for the price of one. You’re welcome.
The movie Space Jam: A New Legacy is about LeBron James (charmingly credited as “Himself”) playing basketball with a bunch of Looney Tunes. It is a mixture of live action, CGI animation and hand drawn animation, directed by Malcolm D. Lee. It is playing in theaters now, or is available to stream until August 15 on HBO Max for those with a subscription to that service. It is also fine.
This is the part of the review where I should say which Space Jam is better, but actually if you get the HBO Max subscription, they also have the original to stream, plus a decent collection of the original shorts, some of the more modern iterations of the property, including the The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries, The Looney Tunes Show, New Looney Tunes (a.k.a. Wabbit!), the HBO Max original Looney Tunes Cartoons and even something called Baby Looney Tunes: Musical Adventures – which I don't think shares a common target audience with Flayrah, but if that's your jam, you do you. So I'd recommend doing that.
First things first, LeBron James does a much better job acting than Michael Jordan. It’s not even really about talent. James actually seems to be trying. He goes for emotions. He doesn’t always attain them, but he tries. Jordan was just kind of there. Furthermore, James is much more willing to be the butt of the joke. Both in live action and animation, he’s often part of the slapstick. He gets beaten up as a cartoon just as often as any of the Tunes. This is partially necessary, given the player. It’s hard to explain if you weren’t there in the 90s just how beloved Jordan was. James is popular, but not like that. Seeing him take a few cartoon knocks to the head may be necessary for fans of certain sports franchises he might have abandoned to enjoy the movie.
And James is presented as an imperfect person who is learning. This is one area of definite improvement over the original. The original movie’s story was about the Tunes basically kidnapping Jordan to solve their problem. In this movie, James assembles the Tunes in order to help him. It’s actually his story. There’s emotional involvement, believe it or not. Well, it's a bit like James' performance. It goes for emotions. It doesn't always attain them, but it tries.
The movie also gives a bit more emotional heft to Bugs’ story. The villain of the piece, Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle) has convinced his friends to abandon Tune World, and he’s a bit depressed by this. He uses LeBron’s need to form a basketball team as an excuse to get the band back together. There’s even a moment near the end of the movie that allows Bugs an actual legitimate hero moment, which is surprisingly his first real time to do something like that.
While the Looney Tunes that are featured are done fine, I’d say the franchise as a whole is better served by Space Jam. I mean, I’ve liked Lil Rel Howery ever since he stole every scene he was in Get Out, but I’d still rather have Hubie and Bertie as my announcers. Since the movie fills up its audience with various Warner Bros. properties in an obvious attempt at self advertisement, the number of Tunes who actually appear is way down. There are literally more Hannah Barbera characters in this Looney Tunes movie than there are Looney Tunes. That’s just wrong.
As far as the “Server-verse” concept is concerned, it boils down to during the “recruiting” section of the movie, various Tunes are inserted into various Warner Bros. movies; a very Looney Tunes gag, so I’m okay with that. Heck, there's a bit about Star Trek – not a Warner Bros. property, but the Looney Tunes do pop culture parodies. It's part of the deal. It’d be nice, however, if the jokes were a bit more funny. The first movie does, on the whole, a much better job being funnier.
The game’s audience is more distracting, but not for the reason you’d expect. They’re just an audience. As obviously commercial as these cameos are, they are least explained and don't feel as forced as the Disney cameos in Ralph Breaks the Internet, for instance. The problem is, in closeup, they look bad. Distractingly bad. They’re obviously extras just dressed up as these characters, and not well.
I’d also like to point out Lola Bunny (Zendaya), the single most controversial cartoon rabbit in existence, has the best recruiting scene, featuring a unique animation style. Her “lack of characterization” in Space Jam is also one of the critiques I never understood. Yes, her character can be boiled down to “likes basketball”, “likes Bugs” and “likes being a girl, but not, you know, girly”, and that holds true for this movie, but you can’t tell me characters such as Foghorn Leghorn are nuanced. Dude’s an anthropomorphic Southern accent disguised as a chicken.
But, speaking of Lola’s characterization, fans of her Looney Tunes Show version do get a bit of an Easter egg. And there were a couple nods to the original Space Jam that had me doing the “Leonardo Dicaprio in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” thing (this time, the trailers didn’t ruin it!). Perhaps the greatest Easter egg, however, is the role played by Tune Squad member Penelope Pussycat, who only appears in the cross-promotional marketing, and not actually in this movie.
Which makes her the single most important member of the team. Cross-promotional marketing is the point, after all!