Space Jam A New Legacy

Space Jam: A New Legacy is an irritating ode to corporate synergy and profit margins

It’s hard not to be cynical as WB trots out all of its intellectual property for a dopey mess starring LeBron James.

The original Space Jam was, by all accounts, no profound work of art. It was designed mainly to pair NBA imagery with the Looney Tunes in order to sell more shit to children, including but not limited to movie tickets. I don’t think that the original Space Jam has any integrity to defend. It is an unabashed product in the same way that a bag of potato chips or a box of fireworks is, and it’s pretty easy to take it as such. In that same order of ideas, it seems inevitable that there would be another Space Jam movie somewhere down the line. After all, kids still like the Looney Tunes and professional sports, and who’d pass up an opportunity to sell them more crap? Capitalism is not even really the issue here; all Hollywood movies (and to some extent all movies in general) function under the auspices of making money, and so I’m not here to complain about the fact that this movie is simply a conduit to part a fool from their money.

It’s the way that Space Jam: A New Legacy chooses to weaponize its desire to make money that grates. A debilitating kaleidoscoping mess of spazzed-out visuals and booming chaos, Space Jam: A New Legacy has more in common with amusement park rides or video games than it does with movies. Free-associating various properties from the Warner Bros catalogue (including a whole heap load of truly galaxy-brain choices like background cameos by characters from The Devils and A Clockwork Orange) into a neon-coloured mess vaguely centred around a message of letting your kids be themselves, Space Jam: A New Legacy may be of interest to undiscerning kids with a high tolerance for being pummeled by nonsense… but little else.

LeBron James plays himself, a hugely famous and talented basketball player with a wife and three children. LeBron is particularly involved in the idea that his two sons Dom (Cedric Joe) and Darius (Ceyair J. Wright) follow in his footsteps on the court, despite the fact that Dom seems much more interested in pursuing video game design. Meanwhile, over at the Warner Brothers studio, an algorithm named Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle) has devised a plan to pair with James in order to create a continuing Lebron James universe featuring Warner properties, a proposition that James rejects outright. Flummoxed by this refusal, Rhythm “kidnaps” young Dom and creates a “real” version of his augmented reality basketball game Dom Ball, forcing LeBron to jump into the Warnerverse in order to rescue his child. In there, he meets Bugs Bunny, who explains in no uncertain terms that he is going to need the help of the other Looney Tunes in order to defeat Rhythm and gain back Dom’s trust.

Though all of the pretexts put in place to get the story going are pretty stupid, it’s not exactly like Space Jam needs an airtight narrative to get off the ground. James gives a pretty middling performance overall — not surprising considering he’s barely acted before and is now being asked to mainly act alongside animated characters — but he’s actually fairly charismatic in the first half of the film, which sees him interact with the Looney Tunes as classic 2D animation. That entire sequence, in fact, is pretty charming and entertaining — animated with great craft and hearkening back to the glory days of the Looney Tunes, it feels perhaps a little perfunctory given how the film ultimately treats the animated as antiquated when the characters are “updated” into furry CGI creations, but it works. (I don’t know what to make of the Rick and Morty cameo that suggests Taz is a dang sex freak, however.)

A New Legacy
Lola Bunny, a 2D LeBron James and Daffy Duck

Had the entirety of Space Jam: A New Legacy been this amiable 2D animated time-waster, I think it would have been fine, if somewhat perfunctory and useless. But the back half of Space Jam: A New Legacy is an anything-goes basketball match attended by the entirety of the characters featured in Warner Bros. movies since its inception, which leads to truly insane dadaist mashups in which a couple of War Boys from Fury Road cheer alongside some gremlins and Stanley Ipkiss from The Mask while Granny and Speedy Gonzalez do some bullet-time Matrix bullshit. It’s reminiscent of a movie I truly hate, Ready Player One, in its relentless contextless piling-on of visual references and cameos, but even Ready Player One at least tied it in with a juvenile idea of nostalgia and how great pop culture used to be. Space Jam: A New Legacy has no real ethos besides some kind of desire to jerk off to its wealth of properties and hope that one of them perhaps sticks out enough so they can weave a whole OTHER spinoff series out of it.

I know that people are going to look at this, look at my rating of this film, and immediately consider me the world’s biggest idiot for essentially shit-talking something that is intended for children. That much is true: I am not, on the surface, the intended audience for Space Jam: A New Legacy… but who is, exactly? What is the ultimate point of this insane garage sale approach to intellectual property in which nothing means anything and everything is just pliable iconography that can be repurposed to sell Happy Meals? What, if anything, is the end game here? An ode to corporate synergy and diversifying your assets? Get the fuck out of here. ■

Space Jam: A New Legacy opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, July 16. Watch the trailer here:

Space Jam: A New Legacy, starring LeBron James, the Looney Tunes gang and myriad other Warner characters

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