Synopsis – NBA superstar LeBron James teams up with Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Looney Tunes for this long-awaited sequel.
My Take – For most kids growing up in the 90s, Space Jam (1996) was a big part of the classic childhood staple especially for anyone who was really into Looney Tunes (like myself), and sports in general as it placed Michael Jordan, who was at the peak of his NBA fame, at the center of the film. Also it didn’t hurt that it was in and out in 88 minutes.
It wasn’t until I got older that I began to understand, at least from the technicality point of view, how the Joe Pytka directed film wasn’t actually good, but instead only existed to sell merchandise. But that is the thing about nostalgia, you end up maintaining well into adulthood, hence despite the long gestating period of development of the standalone sequel, fans never deterred from continuing their demand for a follow up, after all the original did earn $250.2 million worldwide.
While the past decade found fame surrounding Looney Tunes dwindle especially with the box office bomb Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003) adding more hurt to the injury, the sequel which switches Jordan with current NBA star LeBron James, and passes over directorial duties to Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip, The Best Man) and six writers, has been hotly anticipated, particularly more after Ryan Coogler (Creed, Black Panther) attached himself as a producer.
Does it deliver on the hype? Not really, but it does well with what it sets out to do, i.e. provide unabashed entertainment. What the film does especially well, is that it allows the Looney Tunes characters to provide a showcase of their hilarious kinetic, kid-friendly antics in order to endure the newer younger generation. Plus the combination of live action, hand-drawn and computer-generated animations look is quite impressive.
Sure, the plot is pretty much the same the second time around, but I did find myself enjoying how the sequel essentially functions as a glitzy advertisement for the studio that created it, especially as it throws in WB’s best-known titles from Harry Potter to Game of Thrones to The Matrix to DC Comics and Hanna-Barbera characters, all in an effort to equal the cultural ubiquity of rival studio Disney.
Yes, a bloated run time of 115 minute seems a lot for its brand of mayhem and madness, but fans of the original especially may find themselves continuously enjoying especially the onslaught of Easter eggs.
The story follows LeBron James (playing a fictional version of himself), a famous NBA star, who owing to his rough childhood, wishes for his two sons, Darius James (Ceyair J. Wright) and Dominic “Dom” James (Cedric Joe), to follow in his footsteps and put in the required hard work. While his wife Kamiyah (Sonequa Martin-Green) advises him to let Dom especially do his own thing, considering how he is more interested in coding and dreams of becoming a video game developer, LeBron is not convinced. A conflict which erupts between the two when LeBron rejects a pitch from Warner Bros. studio execs (Sarah Silverman and Steven Yeun), which they created via artificial intelligence, about
inserting LeBron’s digital likeness into all kinds of WB properties. However, unknown to the two, LeBron’s rejection is not taken kindly by Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle), the A.I. who is tired of being downplayed and ignored by the executives who run the studio, despite him solely operating the whole serververse called Warner 3000. Sucking the two into his digital world, Al-G, hell bent on fame and respect, challenges LeBron to a viral ballgame, which if he wins, would allow him to go back home with Dom, but if he doesn’t, the two must stay in the server forever.
Banished alone to the Tune World, a world he doesn’t understand, LeBron is left with no choice but to assemble his team with the help of Bugs Bunny (voiced by Jeff Bergman), who himself was looking for a motivation to get his former mates back together, especially Lola Bunny (voiced by Zendaya), after they all left him alone.
Basically, LeBron has to assemble the same team Michael Jordan did, starting from Bugs, to Daffy, Porky Pig, Tweety, Granny, Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, Tasmanian Devil, Lola Bunny, among others, with the exception of Pepé Le Pew, who due to controversy surrounding his character was left off the roster.
Like I mentioned earlier, if you like the original, you might enjoy this one or at least tolerate the rough spots to have fun with it, even though it is set on a flimsy premise is based on the age-old conflict between Accomplished Father and Disappointing Son, mainly as it reeks of being a flash new era remake vibes, especially with all the 3D and colors around.
On the other hand, the goofy one-liners and references are the sort of things especially the kids eat up.
Every now and then the film hits these delightful stretches where you’re just watching a film of fun cartoon shenanigans. While the Looney Tunes are still dropping pianos on each other, their immersions in other properties is hilarious to watch. Like how Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote are blowing stuff up in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Yosemite Sam is about to sign in bar in Casablanca (1942), we also see LeBron trying to recruit Superman, but failing due to Daffy Duck and Porky Pig’s hijinks, and Lola Bunny training under Wonder Woman to become an Amazon.
The reason this film is almost two hours long is because they needed to cram in cameos and nods to everything from Harry Potter and King Kong to Scooby-Doo and Gremlins, and even Mr. Freeze from Batman & Robin (1997). There are a lot of decent gags. There are a lot more dumb ones. Many of those will make adult audiences groan while kids laugh. Although, I agree that the Porky Pig rap battle was probably a bit much. The basketball in the film is, of course, nonsensical, but the kids will like it. As one would expect, this long-belated sequel is nothing more than a nostalgic cash-grab for Warner Bros and a self-conscious exercise in myth-making for LeBron James.
The only thing the film’s haters are refusing to see is how well it caters to its core audience, the kids of the 90s, and the current generation.
Performance wise, LeBron James does a decent job by giving a better performance than Michael Jordan did in the original film 25 years ago and shares an amicable chemistry with Cedric Joe who also does quite well. Don Cheadle is clearly having the time of his life playing the evil A.I. However, Sonequa Martin-Green is wasted here, nor do we see anything special about Zendaya taking on the voice of Lola Bunny. TNT announcer Ernie Johnson and comedian Lil Rel Howery provide some hilarious commentary.
In smaller roles, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Diana Taurasi, Chiney Ogwumike and Nneka Ogwumike are efficient. On the whole, ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ is a sufficiently dumb, fun and entertaining successor to the 1996 film.
Directed – Malcolm D. Lee
Rated – PG
Run Time – 115 minutes