The real villain of Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021) is soulless corporate synergy.
If you think Warner Bros have mismanaged DC, spare a thought for the Looney Tunes. Heading into SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY, it occurred to me that my kids – aged eight and fifteen – barely know who Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig are. They’re just not present in the pop culture anymore and, judging by SCOOB! and now this, Warner Bros have no idea how to arrest their slide into topical irrelevancy no matter how storied and influential their history is. And with the fading familiarity of Looney Tunes, if you don’t follow the NBA there’s precious little for an audience to latch on to here.
When the Warner Brothers studio artificial intelligence, Al G Rhythm (no, really), grows weary of not getting enough credit for all of Warner Bros’ brilliant movies (no, really), he hatches a plot to leverage the star power of NBA superstar LeBron James (himself) to reveal himself to the world. When “King James” passes on the opportunity, though, Al G Rhythm (Don Cheadle) kidnaps LeBron and his son Dom (Cedric Joe) and brings them into the Warners ServerVerse (no, reaallly) to pit them against each other in video game basketball showdown.
As they’ve proved over the past ten years, Warner Bros cannot be trusted with IP. Little wonder, then, that SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY comes across as less a celebration of the breadth and depth of their creative gene pool and more like a showroom to tout the various properties they could sell off to the highest bidder in order to stave off the creative and intellectual bankruptcy that’s so evidently stalking the studio’s shrivelled soul.
There’s nothing remotely original in this movie, largely a re-tread of the first SPACE JAM but replacing alien invasion with artificial intelligence and digital simulation, but however they polish it up, it’s basically basketball TRON. They might think they’re being clever by trying to make a metatextual joke about the movie being about Warner Bros cynically trying to convince LeBron James to lend his star power to a shallow, creatively bereft money-making scheme but they seem entirely oblivious to the savage self-own of suggesting that their entire creative output is managed by an autonomous algorithm. And SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY feels like a movie compiled by an algorithm, indistinguishable from one of those satirical memes which claim “I forced a bot to watch every movie Warner Bros has in its back catalogue then asked it to write a SPACE JAM movie of its own” and yet – and yet – SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY is a movie which has more writing credits than it has main live-action principle cast members (and one of them is playing himself).
Now, I have to admit I never saw the original SPACE JAM when it was released or in the many years that followed and I only caught it recently in TEEN TITANS GO! SEE SPACE JAM. The original never really appealed to me and watching it now, it definitely feels like the kind of movie that you had to be there at the time or, if not there, then definitely under the age of 12. Sorry nineties kids, it hasn’t aged well. This one won’t age at all.
You can tell how far and fast the Looney Tunes have faded because the film has to make LeBron name them all as soon as they appear. They’re trading on brand recognition while having zero confidence that the audience will recognise the brands they’re touting. It makes READY PLAYER ONE look like a symphony of subtlety but as a psychological showcase of corporate imposter syndrome, SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY is potentially worthy of study. When Bugs or LeBron aren’t declaiming the names of whatever IP the audience is being slapped across the face with at any given moment, the rest of the dialogue seems to be aggregated from old memes as if it were brainstormed by a committee of middle-aged men brimming with undeserved confidence that they “know what the kids these days are into”.
You have to ask who this movie is for? Some of the references, like a quick M C Hammer needle drop, suggests it’s for those now grown-up kids who saw the first one when it came out. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time Warner Bros has attempted to keep hold of an aged audience at the expense of enticing a new generation of fans in with accessible, family-friendly fare. The target audience for SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY are unlikely to be jumping up and down with excitement at references to THE MATRIX, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD or A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Pennywise appearing courtside amuses who? Even RICK & MORTY turn up for a brief cameo, easily becoming the most offensive and repugnant thing Rick Sanchez has done in any universe. It’s like someone cut the Executive Boardroom’s coke supply with Memberberries and the makers of this film snorted the lot. The worst thing about all these gratuitous cameos and nods isn’t that they’re there in the background, though, it’s that all of these characters and caricatures are portrayed by what looks like barely competent cosplayers kidnapped from a Comic-Con queue and bundled into a Warners Studio Tour van with sacks over their heads.
The best sports movies succeed as movies whether or not you like or enjoy the sport in question. This is not one of them. The cynical attempt to create a new legacy does little but tarnish what remains of the old one. Please, please, please let this be all, folks.