In 1996, Warner Bros released Space Jam, a revolutionary film that combined live-action with animated characters, featuring iconic basketball player Michael Jordan and the ever-so-popular and nostalgic Looney Tunes.
That magic was hard to catch but 25 years later, the studios are bringing it all back with Space Jam: A New Legacy– with new star power, the current reigning king of basketball, LeBron James.
Nestled at the heart of Warner Bros Studio in Burbank, California is an AI technology, Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle) with an admiration for power, creativity, and famed athlete LeBron James (as himself). Desperate to receive recognition, he meddles with the James family and pits basketball dad against gamer son Don (Cedric Joe) for a shot at superstardom.
From the get-go, it’s clear that Space Jam: A New Legacy is about the father-son relationship between LeBron and Don. LeBron just wants his children to be successful basketball players like him, whilst Don shows interest in making video games about basketball instead.
As they get sucked into a digital world thanks to Al G. Rhythm, the father-son duo are set up to challenge each other in a video-game version of basketball held by the villain. Should LeBron win, he and his son will go home to the real world. If he loses, he’ll lose his son forever.
Unfortunately (or fortunately) for LeBron, he finds himself discarded into TuneTown, where he meets with the iconic Bugs Bunny and his gang of loony toons. The two get into a couple of misadventures as you would expect from the LooneyTunes cartoons before LeBron sits the hare down to explain that he needs a team of basketball players to defeat his son and Al G.
Rhythm when the time comes. The two jump from world to world and franchise to franchise, from Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Rick and Morty, DC and more to gather their team players made up…. well, no one special, just the other iconic LooneyTunes characters.
With little references to the first Space Jam movie, fans get a glimpse into what the characters have been up to post-Michael Jordan days, along with several star cameos from Warners along the way.
On the other side of town, Don and Al G Rhythm work on improving Dom’s game and gather a team of their own, the Goon Squad, made up of NBA All-Stars players including Diana Taurasi, Anthony Davis and more. Unbeknownst to Don, Al G has an evil plan of his own and easily sways Don by displaying some fatherly love and support Don lacks in his life. Seeing his video game come to life, Don is misled into thinking that the friendly basketball match is just a way for him to prove his talents to his dad.
As mentioned, family and basketball are central to Space Jam: A New Legacy where jokes in the movie are related to the nature of basketball matches, fan culture and of course, family-friendly jokes that are unique to the African-American community especially since the movie’s main family are led by LeBron and his on-screen wife Kamiyah James (Sonequa Martin-Green).
The emphasis on the father and son relationship is a heartwarming addition to the film and strangely, doesn’t take away too much of the silly fun and madness that comes with a movie like Space Jam. It’s also here where we get to see the basketball player show off more of his acting abilities (of which haven’t been seen much before).
James fits right in and seems comfortable, natural almost. This is especially given the fact that a huge chunk of his interactions are with animated characters that he can’t see or bounce off in real life. On top of acting, the basketball player also dabbled in voice acting as himself.
There’s a certain joy in the way James performs as if he himself has been a big fan of the 90s movie, and of the other franchises that come under Warner Brothers. Whilst James’ performance isn’t the most emotional, his ability to act as himself no less, is commendable.
The movie gives a different side to James that people don’t often get to see, which makes Space Jam: A New Legacy a joyful, fan-service movie to NBA fans and fans of the king himself.
Unfortunately, not the same can be said about the voice actors behind the famed Looney Tunes characters. Jeff Bergman (Bugs Bunny), Gabriel Iglesias (Speedy Gonzales), and Bob Bergen (Porky Pig) give the most memorable performances whilst Zendaya as Lola Bunny is somewhat forgettable – a shame given how Lola is given quite a large amount of screen time compared to the other characters.
A big pull factor for Space Jam: A New Legacy is the nostalgia associated with the characters that folks grew up watching and whilst the movie holds up with cartoonish antics – like the hilarious chases between Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote for example, a lot of what is shown is nothing new. Well, except maybe for that fun cameo by Michael Jordan.
Luckily, Space Jam: A New Legacy is able to bring something new to the table to make up for all the lost nostalgia. Instead of 2D-animated characters entering reality, folks from the real world are brought into a whacky and highly digital reality instead.
The beloved Looney Tunes characters are also brought to life in 3D, and look a whole lot more realistic than their 1996 counterpart thanks to advancements in technology and animation.
The new digital world is a unique spin and largely affects the basketball match in Space Jam: A New Legacy where it doesn’t stick to the traditional rules of basketball and instead acts more like a video game with power-ups and bonus points for having stylish moves. Tucked into the second half of the film, the video-game basketball match is the strongest part of the film with the electric and colourful visuals stealing the show.
With the match being a replica of a video game brought to reality, Space Jam: A New Legacy sees characters with insanely fast body speeds and super strength amongst other power-ups. The likeness to video games and its exciting special effects places the movie in the same realm as Ready Player One and Guns Akimbo, appealing to fans of a video-game movie genre.
In all, Space Jam: A New Legacy is a fun and joyful movie that has appeal to numerous groups of people – the young, NBA fans, video-game lovers and folks chasing nostalgia after growing up on the 1996 original to name a few.
The movie banks a lot on the iconic name of the franchise and continues the legacy it holds with a modern digital take to things. Space Jam: A New Legacy may not be your top movie pick on a movie night to the cinemas, but it’ll for sure get enough loyal fans who would happily follow.
Space Jam: A New Legacy continues the legacy of the 1996 original with a modern and digital twist. With commendable performance by LeBron James and eclectic visual effects, Space Jam: A New Legacy is an enjoyable watch for NBA and video-game fans, though it lacks nostalgia for old folks to follow.
- Story - 6/10
- Direction - 8/10 8/10
- Characterisation - 7/10
- Geek Satisfaction - 6.5/10
This article was first published in Geek Culture.