A rogue artificial intelligence kidnaps the son of famed basketball player LeBron James, who then has to work with Bugs Bunny to win a basketball game. (from IMDB)
We live in the age of reboots, remakes, and long-awaited and unnecessary sequels, so it should really surprise no one that, 25 years after Space Jam teamed basketball superstar Michael Jordan with the Looney Tunes characters that we now have Space Jam: A New Legacy. It's tough to know just where to start when critiquing this belated (and, again, unnecessary) sequel, because there's just so much about it that seems rather out of place or misguided. So, I suppose we can start by taking a look at what the movie is and its positives.
Being that it's 2021 now and Space Jam released in the mid-1990's, one can expect a completely different flavor for this sequel. While the original mixed live action actors--and basketball superstars--with animated characters, there was a much different approach to animation back in 1996. To put that into perspective, the first big computer animated feature film was Pixar's Toy Story which had released just a year earlier in 1995. So, there's a high probability that most of the animation in Space Jam was hand-drawn. To contrast this, all of the animation in Space Jam: A New Legacy is computer generated, even when it's the classic 2D animation. It works, too, but the movie then relies a little too heavily on computer generated imagery for everything else. Space Jam took our heroes into space, while Space Jam: A New Legacy takes them into computer servers and into a video game. It's more Tron Legacy than Space Jam. I fully get that times have changed - a lot - in 25 years, but in keeping with the theme of the original movie, it doesn't really seem like "Space" so much anymore.
The Looney Tunes characters are probably the best thing about the movie, but LeBron James is surprisingly decent as the lead. Michael Jordan's performance was a bit wooden in the 1996 movie, but he - and the movie - at least had heart. Neither athletes are actors, but James is able to get by a little better than Jordan did (again, even though Jordan is arguably more charming). However, the movie really elevates James and pumps up his ego throughout the entire movie. We see his humble beginnings as a GameBoy-playing kid in the 90s whose coach told him to ditch video games and get serious about basketball, but as an adult, his celebrity-status lifestyle is glamorized to the nth degree. We see his sprawling mansion with custom basketball court, and his growing kids who have the wealth of their father at their disposal. His movie-son (this isn't James' real family in the movie), Dom, doesn't want to play basketball like his superstar dad, and instead wants to design video games. LeBron is totally against this, but we see that Dom is genuinely gifted in this area of expertise. He's got the latest tech that helps him design his game and even scan live creatures into the computer to be able to mix them with humans to create super powerful mutant players. All of this to say -- it's got to be tough for a kid to find the story relatable if all of the main characters are filthy rich, and they keep reminding you of this throughout the movie. Michael Jordan, who was considered one of the greatest of all time, is shown in a far more humble light in the 1996 movie (Heck, he's even struggling to make it as a baseball player). The praising of LeBron in Legacy is gratuitous. (Many characters often refer to him by his nickname "King James," too. *eyeroll*) To make matters worse, the main villain of the film is a computer algorithm named... Al G. Rhythm. Played deviously by Don Cheadle (who clearly had a blast with this role), Al sucks LeBron and his son Dom into the Warner Bros. servers and challenges him to a basketball game if he wants to get out. (His motives seem to simply be because LeBron had shot down the mucky-mucks at Warner Bros. who wanted to digitize LeBron's likeness to insert him into other Warner Bros. franchises--something Al was rooting for.) The first Space Jam was all about the Looney Tunes gang needing to enlist the talents of Michael Jordan to save them from becoming slaves to a bunch of aliens. Here, LeBron needs to recruit his own team and he kind of gets stuck with Bugs and his friends. The Looney Tunes have a much smaller role this time.
Being in Al's "Warner Server-verse" allows Warner Bros. to promote nearly every single remotely recognizable Warner franchise, from DC Comics to Harry Potter to Game of Thrones to Gremlins and even The Mask. Sure, it's exciting to point out certain characters at the basketball game crowd like it's "Where's Waldo," but it's hardly a subtle bit of product placement for an entire movie studio. Was it necessary? Definitely not. Is it fun? ...Kind of? While I don't see the point in having the characters run through scenes of Mad Max: Fury Road or The Matrix if this is a kids movie, there's something oddly entertaining about seeing Speedy Gonzales dodge bullets Matrix-style (even if the gag is closer in date to the original Space Jam than this one, but hey... Warner needs to remind people that a new Matrix movie is coming out later this year... right?).
The theme of the movie acknowledges the different talents we all have and the importance of following our dreams and interests. Since the lesson is more of a parental one -- LeBron needed to learn that Dom can be his own person and not have to be a copy of his father -- the theme seems more geared towards the parents in the audience than the kids. There just doesn't seem to be much grounded about the movie or its themes, and it makes you wonder just who the movie is intended for? I definitely am a firm believer in the lesson LeBron learns, but it's also a tired and well-worn theme that is anything but new. At the end of the movie (which is too long by about 25 minutes), it's certainly an entertaining and visually eye-popping movie... but was it good?
The content is similar to the first movie, but like other recent Warner-animated movies, like SCOOB!, there is a little language included and some cringy play on words. For example, Daffy Duck calls Al a "son of a GLITCH," which obviously isn't a profanity, but it uncomfortably plays on a familiar profanity. I doubt many parents want their children running around calling others sons of glitches. (Ha!) Otherwise, there are a couple uses of "h*ll" and "d*mn," mostly by young LeBron's high school basketball coach, and a couple "Oh my G-d"'s thrown in. Most of the violence is comedic and cartoony, but those sensitive to creepy creatures might not like the basketball players that have been morphed into monsters by combining humans and animals. One female player is part spider, while another is part snake. Still others are strange hybrids of water and time, while another is a bird. (Speaking of spiders, I wasn't expecting to see Dom handle a real live tarantula and scan it into his computer during an early montage, so if you're sensitive to those kinds of visuals, beware!) Also, in the audience, rooting for the villain team are villains from many other Warner properties. Some are the white elf creatures from Game of Thrones, while we also see Pennywise from IT, the monkeys from The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith from The Matrix and a host of other villains. Finally, the ending gets a bit emotional as it looks like a toon character sacrifices their own life to save the game. However, at the end, we do see that they survived. Overall, the movie earns its PG rating, so definitely keep that in mind when younger viewers are concerned.
Space Jam: A New Legacy may not need to exist, but that also doesn't mean it isn't an entertaining movie that kids are likely to enjoy. However, those who grew up on the original are probably going to find that this retread doesn't quite measure up and is just a whole lot of glam and flair without the heart of the 1996 original. Fans of LeBron, and younger audiences, will probably be more interested in this one, but everyone else is probably better off tuning into the original.
Space Jam: A New Legacy is out now in 4K, Blu-Ray, DVD and through digital retailers. The Blu-Ray special features, and iTunes digital copy, include the following:
Space Jam: A New Legacy in 4K UHD - First off, let's take a look at the 4K UHD disc. Man, this is a really colorful movie! Everything really pops visually in this format and, if you're a 4K UHD fan and are looking to pick this movie up, this transfer looks really great. I definitely recommend Space Jam: A New Legacy in 4K UHD.
OK, on to the special features...
First Quarter: Game On (7:36) - Here, they talk about the sequel's story and it being a father and son story. The cast and crew reflect on the first film and how, with this one, they hoped to reintroduce Looney Tunes to a new generation. (1 "h*ll")
Second Quarter: Teamwork (7:50) is about the make-up artists who worked to get the iconic Warner characters recreated to populate the game audience in the film. We also hear about how LeBron did some wire work stunts and how the filmmakers tried to spread the craziness of the Looney Tunes to other characters.
Third Quarter: Out of This World (8:10) delves more into the special effects for the film, how they used motion capture for the other famous basketball players, and worked hard to create the detailed, digital world of the "server-verse." They also cover creating 3D furry versions of the Looney Tunes characters and the challenges that presented.
Fourth Quarter: The Looniest (7:08) is about trying to match the soundtrack of the original in scope and memorability. They talk about trying to choose pop songs that fit the mood and write an original score to match the emotional beats of the film. This segment then wraps with an overall recap/promo for the film. (1 "h*ll")
Deleted Scenes: (7:35) - There are 5 deleted scenes with a Play All option. "Next Level" (4:05) is a lengthy scene where a Warner Exec calls Malik to try to get him to convince LeBron to do a new project. After Malik says no, Al cuts into the call and pretends to be the Executive to further try to sway Malik. "In Cleveland" (0:41) shows Bugs worried that the situation in the game is hopeless. "Timeout" (0:48) is a similar scene where the Tunes fight amongst themselves. "Are You with Us?" (0:38) is told in a mix of finished film and storyboards where LeBron asks the Goons to pick a side. "No More Secrets" (1:22) is an extended ending after LeBron and his family get out of the game, where his assistant Malik admits to doing some stupid things. After they walk away, Al G laughs maniacally on the screens in the room, while Pete (offscreen) calls what he's doing cliche.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 10/7/21)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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