To be perfectly fair to everyone, and to somewhat soften the blow that’s coming during a sentence or three, i would like you to understand that I had the precise same reaction as (almost) everyone else when the very first trailer for Malcolm D. Lee’s Space Jam: a replacement Legacy dropped a couple of months ago. It seemed like the type of bizarre and garish film that you’d inevitably get after an AT&T executive, already stoked abreast of the potential performance of their recent acquisition, Warner Bros., and keen to rev up the Tune Squad for a brand-new generation, strolled into a pitch meeting with a number of facts and figures derived from focus groups, social media metrics, and a tackle box filled with stimulants.
to mention that it’s an immensely cynical enterprise is an irony, and it’s surprising that Warner Bros. had the restraint to refrain from mentioning HBO Max outright within the text of the film itself, but, midway through watching it, I started to ponder whether or not that was this particular movie’s fault, or, more precisely, the first sin of the first Space Jam. Both are mildly amusing exercises in brand management, with the first helping to meet the NBA’s, and specifically Michael Jordan’s, image — sure, he was a badass, the best ballplayer of all time (Go Heels), but he wasn’t cuddly, and neither was the league, beginning of the ’80s and early ’90s — while also ensuring the Looney Tunes stable would remain relevant through the ’90s, firmly stuck to the ribs of each newly-minted Jordan fan that left those theaters back in 1996, held right near their hearts. It worked like gangbusters, and ensured you’d see Bugs Bunny or the Tazmanian Devil on t-shirts for subsequent 10 years, ones perhaps purchased at the WB Store at your local mall.
It’s somewhat easy to forget that the bulk of the Tunes output within the ’80s and ’90s came from theatrically released and hastily-cut-together cartoon compilations, nostalgiac revivals within the vein of That’s Entertainment that never sought to form a case for his or her relevance and, within the process, also vandalized legitimately brilliant cinema. Space Jam brought them back to the cultural forefront in a big way before it all went tits up in 2003 after Back in Action underperformed at the box office. So, from a financial standpoint, the Tunes stable is during a spot almost like that of the Muppets: Their parent company now has no idea whatsoever to try to to with them, (though Disney, at the very least, did the smart thing and made their most precious work — The Muppet Show — available to stream), and a replacement Space Jam,
one that would piggyback off of the worldwide love for basketball that’s arisen over the decades since the first film, while also inuring new audience with a love for these characters, read sort of a good idea, especially with the “new” face of the game, LeBron James, at its center. That’s all well and good: it’s what you’re signing up for once you buy a ticket for an area Jam film unless you’re hoping it’s about martian jelly-making, which, well, I’m sorry that your niche taste hasn’t been catered to by Hollywood. But where Space Jam: a replacement Legacy falters is its attempts to expand that deep-seated love for the Looney Tunes that its audience has got to the entire of Warner Bros, and it causes the film to lose whatever modest amount of focus it had to start out with and bloats it to an unbearable length.
There’s an amusing — if not entirely cogent — conceit at the guts of Lee’s film: LeBron James (James), a famous basketeer, is sucked into the planet of the Tunes not due to, say, the Mon-Stars returning or whatever, but because an algorithm demanded it. Anthropomorphized by Don Cheadle, the algorithm’s at the guts of the Warner Bros.’ digital media library, where all their fictional characters sleep in server farms like they’re post-human consciousnesses in Black Mirror‘s “San Junipero,” and he sees James as an opportunity: It can leverage his superstardom which of the properties and “become truth King” or whatever. the purpose is, the film knows what it’s doing, somewhat, and there’s an amusing contrast between the visceral and emotional connections that we’ve with the works cited here — Casablanca, Mad Max: Fury Road, the DC superhero stable — and therefore the procedurally-generated horseshit that Cheadle’s character comes up with. All that talent, all that computing power, and everyone you get maybe a basketball.
A basketball that’s, in fact, stolen from James’ fictional son Dom (Cedric Joe), who wants to program video games rather than playing basketball like his patriarch and older brother but is making a basketball (video) game of his own. Cheadle kidnaps Dom so as to force James to play the sport and tempts the child with the prospect to be ready to school his dad at his own game. As far as Faustian bargains go, I’m pretty sure that’s an unimpeachable one for a nine-year-old. So, James is banished to Tune World, which has been about abandoned by its inhabitants, but Bugs, who is doing his best to remain sane while being The Last Tune On Earth. Akron’s favorite son recruits the Rabbit to assist him to get a team together, and, of course, this suggests getting the gang from all the varied properties that they’ve been pawned off to. Yes, they visit many worlds, and it’s moderately amusing to observe them do so, especially since James’ form changes counting on where they land: In Tune World, he’s a cartoon; in DC World, he’s the Robin to Bugs’ Batman, then on then forth. Problem is, there’s still an hour of movie left by the time everyone gets together and that they start montage-ing, and I’m sure even the foremost ardent fans of LeBron — you recognize, those who thought the choice was excellent prime-time viewing — or the Tunes will have tuned out by the time that a spread of costumed characters from all across Warner Bros.’
various films and tv shows come streaming in, Ready Player One-style to observe James and therefore the Tune Squad bully off against CGI superpowered versions of Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis, among others. That’s when the digital effects work begins to overwhelm everything, and therefore the brief moments of faux-cel animation strewn throughout start to desire a blissful, half-forgotten dream compared to the CGI monstrosities that the Tune Squad becomes because Cheadle’s character demands it. There’s even some recognition of that ugliness within the film itself, despite how “expensive” it’s going to look, as Daffy Duck says. it’s as not faithful these characters because the Loonatics were back in 2003, once they tried to form X-Treme Goth Tune Heroes happen.
Again, there’s the argument for authenticity, and where the primary Space Jam was about you having a touch of MJ in you, albeit you don’t have the Special Sauce, a replacement Legacy is ultimately about being real — authentic — for yourself, et al. . James’ accomplishments on the court are as incredible and as unimpeachable as those of animation gurus like Tex Avery or Chuck Jones, or the films of George Miller or Michael Curtiz, or the work of men like Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and contrivance is not any thanks to properly pay tribute to those great feats and/or works of art. It’s a hell of an option to make your own thesis statement your undoing, and that
I quite admire Lee and company for straight-up admitting the outright uselessness of this endeavor within the grand scheme of things. In our IP-saturated era, it’s a stimulating corrective to ascertain the ethoses of executives at these companies skewered as if they were themselves being hoisted by their own petards, and it’s legitimately the last item that I expected out of an area Jam movie. So, while I’m not getting to argue that this is often particularly worthwhile cinema for anyone but the foremost die-hard Lakers fan or folks under the ages of 15, I will be able to say that Space Jam: a replacement Legacy isn’t the antichrist (besides, during a biblical sense, wouldn’t that be one among the administrators who take advantage their indie cred for an attempt at a Marvel movie or something?) and it’s, frankly, not worth getting mad about. Moreover, it lives up to the odd and already profit-oriented precedent set by the first, though I doubt it’ll accumulate an equivalent quite cultural cachet which will make it successful with Allston frat boys 20 years on like MJ’s did.