“We’re not called the fundamental tunes…” – Bugs Bunny
If you weren’t young enough to appreciate the goofiness of 1996’s Space Jam at the time of its release, then I genuinely feel sorry for you. A basketball megastar who’s future in the NBA seemed unclear due to family tragedy, stars in a movie alongside the Looney Tunes whilst playing himself, which was produced by the same guy that gave us Ghostbusters? You would have to question how this idea was ever greenlit. But if you were to ask the kids of that generation what their impressions are, they’d unapologetically proclaim “Welcome to the Jam!”
I guess the debate continues. Who is better, Michael Jordan or his successor Lebron James? Well, we have a new topic to throw into that argument. Whose collaboration with the Looney Tunes is better? The answer to that is a lot easier (sorry Lebron fans).
When I heard that a remake of the 90’s phenonium was to see a release sometime in the near future, I (like I imagine most people of that generation) shuddered at the thought. The idea was something very much of its era, and unless it was willing to do something vastly different (it really wasn’t) then there feels little point in digging it back up. Space Jam (1996) was a complete fluke, but it was one that become a generational hit with those young enough to appreciate it.
The movie starts very much the same way. Starting off with Lebron’s younger years as a potential prospect, then cutting straight to a highlight reel of Lebron’s career highlights all to an energetic tune to get you pumped and ready (sorry guys, no Quad City DJs this time). There are of course tweaks to the general story and how the events play out, but if you strip it down to its core, it’s practically the same by principal.
After Lebron and son, Dom (Cedric Joe), are captured by a rogue AI system (Don Cheadle) at the WB headquarters, the AI named Al G. Rhythm (read that again slowly) challenges Lebron to a basketball game in which he will have to play for his freedom. Lebron is sent to Looney land where he first meets Bugs Bunny and seeks help from Bugs to form an elite team of Warner Brothers heroes to take on Al G. Rhythm and his team, the ‘Goon Squad’. “Sounds awfully familiar” Bugs says with a wink to the camera, when Lebron covers the minor details of the plot.
Whilst I’d love to sit here and say that watching this was like opening a time capsule to my younger self, indulging myself again in something I truly cherished and that it doused all my lack of anticipation, I can’t. Space Jam: A New Legacy is little more than a lazy and soulless attempt at ramming WB products down your throat, and reminding you of all the successes they’ve had over the years (ironically this won’t go down as one of them).
I’ve seen the defence case built around this film, claiming that it is a kids movie, but many of the references that pop up during this movie are certainly not. There are scenes completely pulled from The Matrix, Mad Max: Fury Road and Casablanca for instance. None of which would likely, or even should be viewed by the same ‘intended’ audience of this movie. Also featuring cameos of characters from everybody’s favourite kids films and shows, like Pennywise the clown from It, the White Walkers from Game of Thrones and characters from Tim Burton’s Batman movies. Or even better, how about the Droogs from A Clockwork Orange?
It took a page from the book of Ready Player One by injecting a load of pop culture references and have you feeling some kind of way, but it predominantly fails to do anything with it. Instead it just looks like a load of cosplayers dressed up as their favourite film characters, not even reacting to what is actually happening on screen (watching their reactions in the background is sometimes more entertaining than what’s happening in the foreground).
It’s not all bad. The visuals are a huge standout, clearly occupying most of its whopping $150 million budget. The blend of classic 2D animation and a facelift of 3D for the Looney Tunes was a nice touch. There are a couple of gags and references that really do hit the mark, and a Michael Jordan joke that was a real killer.
Sadly though, I expected much more. With the talent surrounding this project, including an astonishing SIX writers to come up with the final product, and an athlete who seems even more robotic and out of place than Michael Jordan, Space Jam: A New Legacy isn’t the slam dunk it so wishes to be, and that’s all folks!