Greenlit off the back of two Nike adverts in the early 1990s that saw Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan sharing the screen, 1996’s Space Jam – yes, the bizarre Looney Tunes basketball movie – went on to gross over $250 million and surprisingly still enjoys a cult status now, 25 years later.
Now, A New Legacy is born with this highly anticipated sequel/reboot that is finally upon us after decades of rumours before finally being officially announced way back in 2014. Will it be a slam dunk and enjoy the same longevity as its oddly-iconic predecessor, or miss the net entirely?
Despite my nostalgic fondness for the Space Jam of ‘96, I certainly wouldn’t call it a particularly good film – and I can’t imagine many would argue with that. While being a technical spectacle for its day with its seamless blend of traditional Looney Tunes animation and live action, the chaotic nature of the film soon grows tiresome, and any sort of real story or stakes are pretty much non-existent. There are some good laughs and a genuine fondness for the characters that shows the film’s heart is in the right place, but there’s not a lot going on there underneath the shiny veneer of the spectacular (albeit now dated) visuals and the bizarre premise. Regrettably, A New Legacy is more of the same – but lacks a lot of the heart the first film had.
Much like Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, a huge portion of A New Legacy is dedicated to nostalgia – and not just nostalgia for the original Space Jam. No, this Easter Egg-stuffed sequel sees LeBron James (playing a fictionalised version of himself) trapped in a digital Warner Bros multiverse meaning that every child’s favourite movie characters like A Clockwork Orange’s depraved Droogs and It’s murderous clown Pennywise can attend A New Legacy’s climactic basketball game, while Looney Tunes characters are digitally inserted into scenes from classic films like Casablanca. The film ultimately gets bogged down in these various references and homages, feeling more like a self-congratulatory Warner Bros victory lap through their various IPs than an actual Looney Tunes or even a basketball movie – Warner is even referred in the film as ‘the studio behind all the classics’. This is the lasting impression that A New Legacy leaves – just another massive corporation flexing their muscles. The joke in the first film where Daffy Duck reveals a Warner Bros logo on his arse and kisses it takes on new meaning, seeing as this film is basically a feature-length adaptation of that brief moment.
Narratively, A New Legacy treads the exact same ground as the first film, with a basketball superstar playing themselves, trapped in a strange land and having to take part in a wacky, chaotic match with seemingly no rules in order to earn their freedom. There are steps in the right direction – Lola Rabbit (here voiced by Zendaya) isn’t quite as sexualised as she was in the first film, while the problematic skunk Pepe Le Pew is removed altogether. The animation when the Tunes ‘come to life’ – after the film’s first hour in which Bugs and the gang appear only in traditional 2D animation – is absolutely magnificent, retaining the iconic character designs and still feeling distinctly Looney Tunes while modernising them wonderfully. The climactic basketball game is bursting with colour and vibrancy, and feels polished. And of course, the zany slapstick comedy audiences have come to expect from these characters is present and correct. If Looney Tunes tickles your funny bone, there are some wacky laughs here – and Don Cheadle is having the time of his life hamming it up as the film’s villain. But a lot of the trademark Looney Tunes self-awareness feels forced, losing its beloved humour in the process. The desperation to seemingly reference every Warner property ever made just becomes nauseating, with even Rick & Morty inexplicably making an appearance in which it is implied they have performed unspeakable experiments on Taz.
Despite being so many years in the making, A New Legacy feels rushed. There’s very little going on narratively speaking, with the first act introducing tedious familial drama threads that the film then seemingly gets bored of and attempts to distract you with an unstoppable onslaught of exhausting mayhem and crowbarred-in references that just feel forced and unnatural. And clocking in at just shy of two hours (while the first film barely topped 80 mins), it is a long ol’ slog that could see younger viewers fidgeting in their seats long before th-th-that’s all, folks. It’s over 25 minutes before any Looney Tunes characters appear, and at least an hour before their furry new CGI models are revealed. By the time the final showdown is beginning, the first film had long finished. And maybe that the root of it’s biggest problem. It is just too long, allowing too much time for the onslaught of references and tedious drama that goes nowhere in the first act.
Vibrant visuals and nostalgia for Bugs, Daffy, and the gang – and indeed the first film – is not enough to save this film from the weight of its own self-indulgence. Space Jam: A New Legacy is an exhausting parade of Warner Brothers porn that will leave viewers of all ages with migraines.