The plot of the new Space Jam movie sounds all too familiar.
When watching Space Jam: A New Legacy it feels like comparing and contrasting with its 1996 predecessor. There’s a delicate mom-and-son flashback opening scene that mimics the father-son opener in the original film. There’s even an energetic montage of lead actor and NBA star LeBron James in the opening credits, similar to what former Bulls player Michael Jordan had in the first Space Jam. Unfortunately, there’s also the recycled storyline aimed at winning a basketball game in order to defeat the baddies.
The new Space Jam – out now in theaters and on HBO Max and enjoying a successful opening weekend at the box office – is being labeled a standalone sequel, but it doesn’t feel like a full, standalone, or full sequel. The film revolves around an evil artificial intelligence named Al G. Rhythm (played by Don Cheadle) that James and his son Dom (Cedric Joe) are capturing in the Warner 3000 ServerVerse, a virtual space that the AI rules. In order to free his son and everyone else in this digital world, James must win a basketball game against AI G’s Goon Squad with the help of the Tune Squad, which is made up of digitally enhanced basketball stars.
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The film deals with being a follow-up to a classic from the 90s. On the one hand, the filmmakers seem intent on showing how far animation technology and CGI have come over the past 25 years, by adding special effects and 3D animation throughout, and upgrading the plot by incorporating a nasty algorithm for the 21st century.
On the other hand, Space Jam 2’s desire to tap into the nostalgia associated with its predecessor makes the sequel seem unoriginal and predictable. The film is at least aware of the strong parallels between it and the original, in which the Looney Tunes sign Michael Jordan to help them win a basketball game against aliens who want to enslave them. At one point in the sequel, Bugs Bunny says to James, “You want me, a talking cartoon bunny, to play with you, an NBA superstar, in a high-stakes basketball game? Sounds awfully familiar.”
But that confidence doesn’t keep the sequel from feeling like nothing more than a money robbery. Rather than building on the storyline of the original film, Space Jam 2 simply forces the old storyline into a modern setting, ignoring true originality and creativity.
Space Jam 2’s desire to tap into the nostalgia associated with its predecessor makes the sequel seem unoriginal and predictable.
The underlying conflict between James and his son in the film also feels predictable and lazy. Dom is more passionate about video game development than he is about playing basketball, which doesn’t go well with his NBA All-Star dad. Al G. uses this disagreement to play Dom against his father and to recruit him for the Goon Squad. Eventually, with the help of the Tune Squad, James realizes the importance of having fun and being true to yourself. It’s an important message, but one that’s painfully overused in the cinema.
There were some fun elements sprinkled through the film, like the regular digs at James about team hopping with the NBA (“What brings you to Tune World, Doc?” Asks Bugs Bunny at one point. “I don’t have any More teams to play for? “). There are also fun callouts to other Warner Bros. properties like Harry Potter and DC Comics, with cameos from everyone from King Kong to Superman to Pennywise. These tidbits help keep parts of the movie interesting, but they’re not enough to keep it afloat when stacked with an overall lackluster plot.
Although the original Space Jam came out over two decades ago, it remains a timeless family film, also because it doesn’t rely on special effects. Space Jam: A New Legacy falls victim to what many blockbusters are guilty of today, namely to put spectacle above substance. This is not a great legacy for me.