Space Jam: A New Legacy – Film Review
by Fran Winston
Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee
Starring: LeBron James. Don Cheadle, Khris Davis, Sonequa Martin-Green, Jeff Bergman, Eric Bauza
In cinemas July 16th
A full 25 years after Space Jam comes this sequel. Although in the absence of Michael Jordan current LA Lakers star LeBron James takes the helm playing a fictionalised version of himself.
If you’ve seen the original then you know the gist of this movie. There is a basketball game involving LeBron and the Looney Tunes characters while showcasing other Warner Brothers characters. LeBron and his youngest son Dom (played by Cedric Joe – not his real-life son) find themselves trapped in the Warner 3000 Server-Verse, a virtual space ruled by a tyrannical A.I. by the name of Al-G Rhythm (Cheadle).
Rhythm uses the fact that father and son are sparring about Dom’s desire to learn more about computers rather than basketball and pits them against each other. So LeBron must trawl the WarnerVerse looking for players for an epic match against his son that will decide the fate of the Looney Tunes and of millions of people who tune into the game.
Warners have a humongous back catalogue of movies and characters so at times this feels like sensory overload. There are fleeting references to epic classics such as the Wizard of Oz and Casablanca as well as their superhero features such as Wonder Woman and Superman but it is the Legendary Looney Tunes who really take the lead here ably headed by Bugs Bunny. It is ironic that one of the biggest basketball stars in the world gets overshadowed by an 80-year-old cartoon rabbit but that is indeed the case. LeBron actually seems to seal his own fate when he comments early on in the movie that athletes acting never works out.
Whereas the first movie felt original and was a spectacle this seems very much focused on the branding. A certain sportswear brand has definitely invested heavily in it and the film takes every opportunity to cross-promote other brands.
The animation is impressive and seamlessly works with the live-action actors. It has some lovely moments and it is also great to see the classic characters again. However, the “big game” itself (modelled on the fictional game created by LeBron’s fictional son) is extremely complicated (and I say that as a former basketball player).
Le Bron for his part gets that this is tongue in cheek and is extremely engaging, but he is upstaged at every turn by the Looney Tunes – and also by Cheadle who seems to relish being able to go full-on Panto villain mode as Rhythm. It’s a different studio but at times he seems to be drawing inspiration from Aladdin’s Genie.
At nearly two hours this is extremely long for an animated feature. This is at its best when the classic characters are allowed to do their thing. The first movie was a big hit and I’m sure the star power of LeBron will draw people in. But ultimately this is a PR exercise designed to promote other WB franchises and characters and it feels somewhat shameless for it.