Let’s not kid ourselves here, the original 1996 Michael Jordan Bugsy Bunny Basketball movie Space Jam was by no means an objectively “good” film, but it was one filled with charm, fun, and a degree of self-awareness to how ridiculous its own existence was. Yes it was a shallow cash-in combining 2 popular things in order to make money, yes it had abysmal CGI, but it also had Daffy Duck playing Basketball with Bill Murray, and really who of us can say that isn’t an objectively fun thing to watch?
The new 25-year-later sequel Space Jam – A New Legacy is in concept and in execution, really no different from its predecessor. Much like the original, Space Jam 2 really has no reason to exist beyond making money, advertising WB’s properties, and promoting the career of a beloved sports star, however in terms of charm, wit and self-awareness, this sequel does come across as a rather shoddy and half-arsed affair.
The first Space Jam was no stranger to corporate branding and promotion, after all the entire film was just a feature-length version of the Bugs Bunny Michael Jordan Shoe Commericals that were already airing at the time. However whilst the original Space Jam would poke fun at itself, e.g Bill Murray only being in the finale because he’s friends with the producer and Bugs being bemused that he never receives any merchandise money; this newest iteration seriously misses the mark on capitalising on a huge number of comedic opportunities.
Due to the film being mostly set in the “Warner Bros Server-verse”, characters and properties from all of Warner Bros’ IPs make frequent cameos throughout the film; from IT and Austin Powers to Game of Thrones and Casablanca (you know, all the things that kids watch). Whilst having access to these famous properties would make for ample chances to poke fun at Warner Bros’ desperation to cling to as many franchises as possible to compete with a certain Monopolistic Mouse, instead, these cameos serve no purpose other than for WB to toot its own erect trumpet about how ‘impressive’ they are.
King Kong, Fred Flinstone, Pennywise, Rick & Morty; they all appear yes, but none of them are used for anything truly humorous or wacky, they’re simply…there. It was never a surprise that Space Jam 2 like its predecessor would try and be as corporate as possible, but just because you have to be corporate doesn’t mean you can’t have fun in the process.
The Looney Tunes themselves have always had an element of self-awareness; frequently breaking the 4th wall to wink at the camera and literally arguing with the artists who draw them. The fact that this film revolves around a corrupt trend-setting Algorithm is the perfect device to poke fun at the ways real-life algorithms do force modern sensibilities onto classic properties. Sadly this film’s self-awareness is only skin deep; it acknowledges that it exists, but it has nothing to say about it, and because of that, it boils down to being nothing but a glorified advert for HBO Max.
That’s not to say that there isn’t anything fun to be had, as once again like the original, the best thing about the film are the Looney Tunes themselves. The scenes involving them practicing basketball and the inventive ways they find to score points during the final match are again pure golden moments of wacky slapstick and clever visual humour. Sadly these moments are simply too few and far in-between, and even the Tunes themselves haven’t escaped the confines of forced ‘youth-appealing’ humour; Granny spouting lines like “haters gunna hate” and the less said about Porky Pig Rapping the better.
Worst of all is probably the fact that most of the Tunes go completely under-utilised. Marvin the Martian, a firm fan favourite is literally shot out of the film after what feels like 10 seconds, Speedy Gonzales is introduced in a bizarre Matrix sequence but then does literally nothing for the rest of the film, Daffy Duck never actually plays for the team during the match and Pepe Le Pew doesn’t even appear at all. I should compliment the film though for at least giving some love and attention to the world’s most underrated Looney tune…Gossamer.
As for LeBron James, while never expected to be of any higher acting caliber than Michael Jordan was, unfortunately, he still doesn’t provide much in the way of being an enticing or likeable lead. Jordan’s vehement skills in ‘not acting’ surprisingly worked in his favour for being a straight man acting deadpan to the cartoon chaos around him. LeBron on the other hand at best seems to appear mildly irritated at the fact that his son is kidnapped, and doesn’t emote much beyond failed attempts to sound excited or scared. It’s not bad enough to be laughable but not good enough to be….well, good either. Unlike the original Space Jam which actually referenced Jordan’s failing Baseball career at the time, LeBron has no such real-life drama to bring into this cinematic world.
What’s stranger is that the film opens with Lebron calling WB’s plan to stick him into famous film properties as a bad stupid idea, yet he then literally gets stuck into famous film properties and exclaims how ‘cool’ and ‘amazing’ it is; fanboying over the very thing he appropriately just called terrible 5 minutes prior. The film feels as if it hates its own existence, which makes 2 of us.
The plot surprisingly bears a striking resemblance to the Harlan Ellison Horror Story I Have no mouth and I must scream. In that short story, a malevolent computer inflicts terrible vengeance upon humanity by imprisoning people inside an artificial world, altering their bodies and subjecting them to brutal hardships and tortures.
In Space Jam – A New Legacy a malevolent computer inflicts terrible vengeance upon humanity by imprisoning people inside an artificial world, altering their bodies and subjecting them to brutal hardships and tortures.
Overall, Space Jam 2, whilst harmless high spectacle visual fun for families, sadly isn’t as engaging, funny or ironically as looney as it potentially could have been. Over-saturated, over-long and over-done. Perhaps in another 25 years we’ll get another Space Jam that forgoes the forced plotlines, pointless cameos and hideous rapping and gets straight to what we all watch Space Jam for; Looney Tunes playing basketball with Bill Murray.