Movie Review: Space Jam: A New Legacy (2nd Opinion)
I am a guy who enjoys many things in life, two of those things are the Looney Tunes and basketball. As such I have a soft spot for the 1996 movie Space Jam. The combination of the greatest player to ever lace up a pair of sneakers (so great that to this day those sneakers still bear his name) and the irreverent slapstick humor of the Tunes was a mad idea that somehow worked. For many of us in a certain generation Space Jam was a milestone event of our childhood. For the past several years rumors have been floating of a sequel featuring the current biggest star in the game LeBron James and things have finally come to fruition. The movie even created some controversy along the way as Pepe LePew was taken out, Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd lost their guns, and some weirdos who seemingly have a thing for cartoon rabbits complained that Lola was apparently not sexy enough. But this did little to stop the eventual release of Space Jam: A New Legacy.
Trying to make up for being a jerk to his kid, LeBron James takes his son to Warner Bros. studios to check out a new software program that transports people into their movies, shows, comics etc. Little does he know that this computer program is actually an evil sentient being known as Al G Rhythm (played by a Don Cheadle phoning it in for a paycheck). As revenge for rejecting him, James is sucked into Rhythm’s virtual world of Warner Bros. franchises. The LA Lakers small forward ends up in the world of the Looney Tunes where Bugs Bunny reveals that the other Merry Melodies have left have ventured out into other WB franchises. Bugs and LeBron have put together a team to play a basketball game against Al G Rhythm to save James’ kid.
Right during the meeting with Warner Bros. executives in the film’s first act, King James himself points out how stupid this all is…..and the movie continues on anyways. So when the movie criticizes itself right from the start there is only so many other places you can go. But Space Jam: A New Legacy is less of a movie and more of an advertisement for all of the films, shows, comics, and intellectual properties belonging to the company that Jack L. Warner built. Like so many entertainment giants nowadays, the merged AT&T/Time Warner is more focused on exploiting intellectual properties over anything else. The bulk of the movie revolves around LeBron and Bugs Bunny travelling to places like the DC Universe, The Matrix, Casablanca etc. Maybe if seeing the Looney Tunes interacting with Superman or Neo would have been funny it may have worked but it does not. There are a few sparse chuckle-worthy moments like Yosemite Sam as the Sam playing the piano at Rick’s Cafe, but nothing rises above that. Hell, they could have used Gossamer’s creator Dr. Lorre as Peter Lorre in the Casablanca scene. And do not use the excuse of “it’s only a kid’s movie” because: A.)That is a terrible excuse for poor filmmaking because there are plenty of great kids movies and B.) They pack in references to WB properties like: Game of Thrones, Mad Max: Fury Road, Rick & Morty, The Devils, and A Clockwork Orange that are far from kid-friendly. It seems as though the corporate overlords behind this movie are not really sure how to utilize the Tunes to their full potential. A large reason why the Looney Tunes have maintained their popularity for decades is because their humor has stood the test of time. Bugs, Daffy, Porky etc. have remained popular for decades because their unique zany personalities fit this style. In Space Jam: A New Legacy, we see the broad character beats like Wile E. Coyote silently pursues Road Runner, Daffy is ego-driven, and Bugs says “What’s up Doc?” but never do we get anything more than this. It is not like they do not have creative people at their disposal to fix this as the revived Looney Tunes on HBO Max currently fit with the style and tone of the original shorts. Someone could have just called the people who make this series for help. Sadly in this flick, the Tunes mainly serve to support the generic story of LeBron connecting with his kid and may as well be in the crowd filled with a jarring mish-mash of: The Flintstones, Batman, Sam Spade, Alex DeLarge, King-Kong, the Herculoids, Captain Blood, Frankenstein Jr., Voldemort, Scooby-Doo and anyone else the company owns the rights to.
Like the original movie, top billing goes to an NBA superstar and one of the greatest icons in entertainment history Bugs Bunny. This time around it does not go quite as smoothly, as strange as it may sound LeBron James does not have the acting skills of Michael Jordan. The Chicago Bulls guard may not have been Al Pacino but he had solid acting chops, James on the other hand comes across as how you would imagine a basketball player parlaying his star power into the movies would be. As far as Bugs Bunny is concerned, we go back to the flaw of those in charge not truly understanding the Tunes. When we are first introduced to him in the movie, he is bouncing-off-the-wall cycling through countless cartoon gags. He is a far cry from the cool carrot-munching smartass inspired by Clark Gable and Groucho Marx. Unlike the original film Bugs is barely even given a story arc that matters. We see all of the other Tunes like Daffy, Foghorn Leghorn, Porky, Sylvester etc. have all left him behind in solitude, but this is an issue resolved rather quickly. They honestly could have used any WB owned cartoon and had the same effect except that Bugs is the most recognizable. This means his sacrifice and return at the end of the movie does not really pack a punch. Though as a basketball fan one of the things I enjoyed about the first film was the cameos from superstar players who lost their talent to the Monstars. In Space Jam: A New Legacy we get this as well with NBA and WNBA stars like: Sue Bird, Damian Lillard, A’ja Wilson, and James’ teammate Anthony Davis, and while they do not get much screentime, they are used well. They are digitized as the villainous Goon Squad for the climactic game and are actually cleverly crafted like having Klay Thompson AKA 50% of the Splash Brothers, being a water-based villain.
If anyone ever wanted to know what a corporate-controlled movie is, I will simply refer them to Space Jam: A New Legacy. The powers that be simply utilized a famous celebrity in a half-hearted story merely as a wraparound to advertise all of the IPs owned by AT&T/Time Warner. They could have just saved 2 hours by having LeBron James come onscreen and simply say “subscribe to HBO Max, read DC Comics, and watch TNT” and it would have had the same impact. This could have worked as a true salute to the storied studio and its legacy if they delved beyond the surface level on any of it to explore why these properties resonate with fans. Looney Tunes cartoons made 50 years ago are still hilarious, Casablanca is still recognized as a landmark of cinema, and Batman has been a force across all forms of entertainment for 80 years. There is a reason for this and seems that the people responsible for curating these IPs are the ones who do not understand it.