Final Verdict: A loud, messy, and unenjoyable sequel. As Porky Pig would say, “That’s all folks.”
About The Film
Welp. Space Jam is back to establish a new legacy, but it had better hope that viewers have short term memory loss. Sports pundits will continue to debate Jordan v. LeBron on the basketball court for years to come, but when it comes to basketball movies featuring talking cartoon rabbits, the verdict is unmistakably clear—MJ remains king. Like watching Shaquille O’Neal throw up bricks from the free throw line, Space Jam: A New Legacy has all the hallmarks of a Space Jam film, but seen in its ugliest form.
The original Space Jam succeed as a loving celebration of both basketball and Loony Tunes. A New Legacy, on the other hand, attempts to be a celebration of Space Jam itself, and in the process, fails to do justice to either.
The big twist in this sequel is that everything takes place within a virtual video game (an unwelcome trend started with the recent Jumanji reboot). As a result, it is more a video game movie than a basketball one. The traditional rules of basketball are discarded in favor of video game mechanics, where baskets with more “style points” can rack up insanely high point totals. The unpredictability strips the basketball element of any tension or drama, since a single play closes an almost 1000-point deficit, making the Tune Squad’s comeback feel cheap rather than earned or exciting. The original Space Jam stayed true to the sport while allowing ample room for the Tunes to act loony, but A New Legacy seems more likely to inspire viewers to go home and grab a video game control rather than head outside to shoot hoops in the driveway.
The Loony Tunes are also shortchanged. Upon arriving in Tune World and experiencing the zaniness of Bugs Bunny, a cartoon LeBron James mutters, “I don’t understand this place.” This turns out to be unintentionally meta. The Loony Tunes simply don’t feel like the Loony Tunes. At least, not consistently. They have their moments to shine (Daffy Duck is as delightful as always, and a Foghorn Leghorn moment during the end credits is hilarious), but these moments are few and far between.
Also, the virtual setting allows Warner Brothers to infuse its other properties into the story, from DC comics, to Game of Thrones, to Harry Potter. While it is fun to try and spot the various iconic characters, the heavy emphasis on these other properties ultimately steals the spotlight away from the Loony Tunes themselves, who are given little time to interact and get up to their usual loony highjinks together.
In the end, Space Jam: A New Legacy feels like an older Boomer trying to be cool with “the kids” by using lingo and references that already feel awkward and dated. The overly complicated video game dynamic feels like a desperate attempt to pull in an audience who might not be as interested in basketball or sports, but it strips the movie of all the simple charm of the original. I don’t fault LeBron or the filmmakers for trying to revive the story for a new generation. But after experiencing the “new legacy,” it is painfully clear that it’s time for a stuttering Porky Pig to declare, ‘That’s all folks.”
Profanity: More than a Loony Tunes movie should have (which is “zero”). I counted 2 “H—”, 1-2 “D—”, 2 “OMG”s, and one moment when a profane tirade is bleeped out.
Violence: Typical Loony Tunes cartoon violence.
Engage the Film
You Do You, and Let Me Do Me
A film about anthropomorphic, cartoon animals playing basketball inside a virtual video game is not overly fertile soil for deeper philosophical messages or worldview implicates. Still, in several ways the film reflects the ideologies prevalent in our culture.
A New Legacy‘s primary message is that people need the freedom to be true to themselves and should not be pressured by others to be someone they think they’re not. The heavy-handed message unfolds as LeBron James learns to accept that his son is passionate about video games and is not as driven to devote his life to basketball as he was. James learns this lesson through his interaction with the Loony Tunes, and the realization that the best chance to win the big basketball game is to let the Tunes play “their way” and not impose his own strategy and will on them.
On its own, this message is fine and an appropriate theme for a children’s movie. Christians can affirm that God has gifted each individual and has a unique desire for their life. However, there is also an echo of postmodern ideology, where the ultimate value is freedom for self-expression, individualism, and authenticity. Space Jam: A New Legacy is not explicitly preaching this ideology in any harmful way, but it is certainly a product of today’s culture.
Recognition and Affirmation
A second theme, related to the first, is our innate desire and longing for affirmation. The villain, Al-G Rhythm (played by Don Cheadle), is a computer A. I. who desperately wants to be recognized for his genius. Likewise, LeBron’s son, “Dom”, is caught in a tug-o-war of father figures between Al-G and LeBron, as he seeks affirmation for his passion as a video game designer.
In a way, the film goes against the classic wisdom: “You do you and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.” Instead, outside affirmation is essential. It is the lack of affirmation from LeBron (and the world at large) that turns Al-G Rhythm evil, and the lack of affirmation that pushes Dom to initially join the villainous “Goon Squad.” In a sense, the film seems to imply that, rather than being confident in yourself, what really matters is being validated by someone like LeBron James. It is not hard to draw parallels to today’s culture and the militant methods of forcing society to actively endorse and affirm the ideology or lifestyle of choice.
To a certain degree, the film is about the search for identity, and it seems to endorse an unhealthy and secular understanding that identity is not only determined by what we feel about ourself, but also by what those around us see in us. Thankfully, Christian theology offers a more liberating perspective, that our identity is found in Christ alone, and not in the eyes of others.