This review contains spoilers for “Space Jam”
Now that “Space Jam: A New Legacy” has been out for almost a week, we should be able to recognize it as the perfectly passable and outright fun family movie that it is. While watching it, I felt reassured that this wasn’t the terrible rehash that many feared but instead a natural revival of a childhood cult classic.
The concept of “Space Jam” would make anyone incredulous at first: this movie franchise is about a film production company pairing an all-time basketball legend with Looney Tunes teammates that are forced to play a basketball game with twisted physics. That is such an easy marketing sell that, to the uninitiated, it can seem cynical.
This concept may be out there, but the truth is that the original 1996 “Space Jam” starring ‘90s demigod Michael Jordan introduced a fun and new concept to basketball fans, creative self-referential humor for parents and, most importantly, a chance for kids to cheer on both Bugs Bunny and the most famous basketball player on the planet. With this new revitalization of the movie, Warner Brothers moved “Space Jam” into a similar generational redo territory as “A Star is Born,” and everyone should be celebrating it.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” stars LeBron James in Jordan’s place; James is fighting to get his son back after villain Al-G Rhythm (excellently played by Don Cheadle) takes him hostage. James as the new “Space Jam” sports star — after Jordan’s original performance — gives basketball-heads another opportunity to pit the two against each other, both jokingly and faux-seriously. I was surprised that Steph Curry didn’t get the opportunity to star as the main character at first, but after seeing the movie, it’s clear that James was the correct choice.
Critics that are blasting James’ acting have obviously forgotten Jordan’s performance in the ‘90s, which was lauded for some bizarre reason. James carries a much bigger acting load here than Jordan did then; while Jordan mostly stayed in his usual reserved heroic lane in the original film, James carried actual emotional weight and a character arc in the new movie.
Comparing quirks in the new edition to the original is a natural tendency, and something we must partake in for an accurate review. Something that largely stands out with the new movie is its fewer successful referential jokes than the first. Also, strangely, the 2-D animation from the ‘90s looks better than both the 2-D and the 3-D “upgrade” given to the characters in the new movie.
However, this new version does utilize a variety of visual effects that modern society has made possible, which wasn’t available in the original movie. This provides for interesting set pieces, like a slowed down sequence initiated by a robotized Damian Lillard. In addition, the entire voice cast for the Tune characters is fantastic in the new movie, reflecting the high-quality voice work present in both movies.
While James gives a superior acting performance to Jordan’s, the live-action supporting cast in the original film was decidedly better. The new film provides far less screen time for the live-action characters; they aren’t doing much other than looking for James, whereas the original film provides more of a role for these supporting characters. There also just isn’t any equivalent to Bill Murray showing up out of breath and drawing up a play for Lola Bunny.
The reviews from professional critics for this movie have been strangely vindictive and, in my mind at least, unfair. I have no doubt that children today will continue to adore this movie in the same way that kids in the ‘90s adored their Jordan-based edition and kids in 2038 will undoubtedly adore their Naasir Cunningham version.
Matthew Salcido is the sports editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @baggyeyedguy