Movie Review: ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’

Director: Malcolm D. Lee

Cast: Lebron James, Jeff Bergman, Eric Bauza, Don Cheadle, Zendaya, Cedric Joe

Plot: Basketball superstar Lebron James and his son are digitised and trapped in the computer servers of Warner Brothers, where a malevolent and sentient algorithm challenges James to a basketball game.

Movie: I am constantly astounded by the degree to which the original Space Jam is held sacred by people who grew up with it. The nostalgia goggles are strong, because it’s not a movie with much merit. Is was based on a series of advertisements and is a foundation on which to plug more products. There’s a scene where Wayne Knight name drops FIVE products in one sentence. There are some things I like in that movie, but between the shameless shilling and poorly implemented animation it gets pretty tiresome. Holding it up as a cultural touchstone, and decrying this sequel/remake for not capturing the spirit of the original, feels pretty darn silly. It was only created to sell junk. The reviewer consensus on Rotten Tomatoes states that this movie traded the ‘zany meta-humour’ of the original for ‘a shameless and tired exercise in IP-driven branding’, which makes me wonder if they saw the first movie.

The set-up for the story is certainly as contrived as the original. Legendary sports star Lebron James (James) was pushed hard as a child, and adopting the same approach with his own children has driven a wedge between him and his son Dom (Joe). They attend a pitch at Warner Bros. studios to integrate his appearance into existing properties. Lebron dismisses this (pointing out that getting sports stars to act rarely works out well, some amusing lampshading), angering the algorithm named Al G Rhythm (Cheadle) that came up with the idea. Rhythm pulls Lebron and Dom into the digital realm of the WB servers and holds Dom hostage to be released after a basketball game.

As part of this challenge Lebron has to assemble his squad. After being dumped in the land of the Looney Tunes, and finding they’ve all deserted the world except Bugs (Bergman), the two set out to find suitable players. Bugs detours this mission to round up his old friends, although why he doesn’t continue getting Superman, King Kong and Iron Giant on his team is unclear. This is the part where the decisions behind this movie start to confuse me. It’s already been made clear what the goal of this project is, as Lebron’s landing in the Tune world leaves a Nike swoosh logo indent in the ground. They are completely shameless in this being an advertisement, whatever, but then the franchise ‘worlds’ they visit are downright perplexing.

Visually it’s just the OASIS from Ready Player One, with different planets representing different intellectual properties owned by Warner Brothers. They visit the world based on the Justice League animated series, which makes sense as this is a cartoon movie for little kids. What would they visit next? Animaniacs would be fun. Maybe the manner Hanna-Barbara worlds, especially since a Scooy-Doo poster appeared earlier in the movie. They could go to the magical world of OZ, throwing Bugs into that would be funny. They fly past and comment on a Harry Potter world, that’s a given.

So what did they select? What movies did they build scenes around in this Bugs Bunny movie for children?

They collect Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner from Mad Max: Fury Road.

Wile E. Coyote is helping this man retrieve his sex slaves.

Elmer Fudd is to be found in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.

Not pictured: Elmer Fudd. Thank god.

Yosemite Sam is in Casablanca.

They then swing by Westeros to collect Foghorn Leghorn.

That’s two properties that prominently feature sexual violence. One more to go!

Speedy Gonzales and Granny are in The Matrix.

And finally, Taz Devil is in the care of Rick and Morty.

I didn’t even know WB owned that one…

Who on Earth was in charge of choosing these properties?! They’ve got multiple eras of Batman, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, The Animaniacs, The Mask, The Men in Black…so many franchises that would have been perfect for this routine, but they went with IPs that are not only unsuitable for the audience, but the jokes are going to be completely lost on the kids in the cinema. I asked the younger members of the audience which ones they recognised and they drew a blank on all of them. It’s mind-blowing that they didn’t include the Harry Potter franchise in this cross-world caper, that would resonate better with the young audience than anything else on offer.

So sure, maybe it’s for the adults. You’ think it would be maybe one for the older audience members and the rest for the kids, instead it’s all R rated properties that are mostly out of date. The Matrix is more than two decades old at this point, so is Austin Powers. I took some 8-12 years olds to see this and Casablanca came out before their GRANDPARENTS were born. Who was this for? Why do so many kids movies reference Casablanca in the first place? Why are Yakko, Wakko and Dot in a blink-and-miss-it cameo while Casablanca gets it’s own scene? It’s completely backwards! It’s like someone got their notes muddled and mislabeled the lists of potential franchises.

I did have a bit of fun looking for cameos in the crowd during the basketball game. The Meredith Burgess and Danny DeVito versions of the Penguin are fun, and Pennywise talking to White Walkers was worth a chuckle. Voldemort has a nose, not sure what’s happening there. Then I notice the gang of Droogs from A Clockwork Orange hanging out next to the Men in Black. A Clockwork Orange is one of the most notorious movies in history, depicting rape and violence as delightful pass-times and was eventually pulled from release by its own director. At what point did someone suggest including Alexander DeLarge in this Bugs Bunny movie, and how many other people did it go through before being released on screens? Guys…DON’T PAIR UP A CLOCKWORK ORANGE WITH CHILDREN’S ENTERTAINMENT.

Why is this something you need explained to you? DON’T PUT THESE CHARACTERS IN FAMILY MOVIES.

The ultimate irony is that the villain of the movie is a soulless algorithm looking to capitalise on the success of combining franchises. Even for a sequel to an advertisement adapted to a full movie, this is pretty shameless in how much they’ve tried to capitalise on combining franchises. Surprisingly, Lebron is given more complex character work than Michael Jordan in the original and he does fine with it. It’s not his fault that this entire premise is dumb. The only other aspect of the movie worth noting is that Lola Bunny (Zendaya) is no longer framed as a character we should find sexually attractive. Would’ve been nice if they’d exchanged this trait for a personality though

One extra star for the bit where Michael Jordan turns up though. That made me laugh.

Rating: TWO out of TEN