I’ve mentioned my love of the original Space Jam before but it’s always worth repeating. It was the first film that I saw multiple times in the cinema. I first saw it with a friend and I loved it so much that I forced my mother to take us to see it again. I adored it. I laughed at jokes that I didn’t understand and I had a bloody good time. I rewatch it all the time because it’s such a joyous thing. It’s a film that shouldn’t work. It’s based on an advert and it’s just shameless in its self-promotion. It relies on ridiculous cameos and in-jokes. Yet, somehow, it just comes together. So, of course, I was interested to see how the sequel would work out. It’s been 25 years. We neither needed or wanted it. But it’s here now. Would LeBron James ever be able to step into Michael Jordan’s Nikes?
There has been talk of a Space Jam sequel since the first one was released. The initial idea would have seen Michael Jordan come back to the franchise and help the Tunes battle another evil alien. Jordan wasn’t so keep so the idea kept evolving. Over the years, there have also been plenty of other stars attached to the project. These include Jackie Chan, Tiger Woods and Tony Hawk. Eventually, in 2014 it was announced that LeBron James would take the lead and, from that point on, the film began to desperately try to recreate the magic of the original. And when I say recreate, I mean pretty much retell the same story but including more technological stuff.
This time around, LeBron James is having trouble understanding his youngest son, Dom. Dom doesn’t really have an aptitude for basketball and much prefers to design video games. In fact, he’s designed his own basketball game. Something that LeBron somehow can’t appreciate because of a brief moment in his childhood. It’s ludicrous to think that any real parent wouldn’t be able to understand the brilliance on show if their child made a fucking video game but I have to let that go. The pair argue before being sucked inside a virtual world and trapped by an evil algorithm. An evil algorithm played by Don Cheadle and who has very weird motivations. It’s something about needing LeBron James to prove how great it is but nobody ever really cares about that aspect of the film.
Or in fact any of the film. This is a story that just exists to get people to where they need to be. And where they need to be is inside piece of intellectual property that Warner Bros owns. I know that the original film was based on an advert but there’s no reason why the studio needed to turn the sequel into a literal advert for their stuff. We see LeBron James visiting Harry Potter, the DC Universe, Mad Max Fury Road, Game of Thrones and The Matrix. Yep, the 1999 blockbuster features heavily in this film released 22 years later. Once we’ve finished visiting the Warner Bros worlds, we get down to the task of basketball. Why they have to play basketball, I still don’t know but what else would LeBron James do? Of course, we’re not done with marketing opportunities. All of the characters that have ever been created by Warner Bros or one of their subsidiaries turns up to watch. Even the guys from A Clockwork Orange. What the fuck?
Long story short, basketball game. Father vs son. Huge stakes. Although, you won’t really be shocked by how this all turns out. The ending is so by-the-book that you might as well just make up the story in your head. At least it would be quicker and less cringe-inducing to watch. It would also be a hell of a lot more fun. There’s very little to really celebrate here. It’s just a joyless cash grab. So little thought went into this plot that you wonder why they bothered. Half of it feels so dated yet there are constant references to social media and algorithms. It’s as if someone wrote something around the year 2000 and came back to it 20 years alter. They then decided that the pop culture references were mostly gold but they might as well chuck a few more recent ones in for good measure.
It’s not that I think Space Jam is a genuinely good film. It’s terrible but it knows its terrible. It happily admits that it only wants to make money and has fun with it. I also wouldn’t say that LeBron James is any worse on screen than Michael Jordan was. In fact, he’s probably a little better. The reason that Space Jam: A New Legacy is bad is simple. It has no reason to exist so it has a lot of work to do to convince us that it deserves to. It has to work even harder when thanks to Warner Bros’ relentless branding exercise. The fact that it has to tack on a Disney style lesson about being oneself is further proof that Warner Bros had no idea what they were doing. The original film was so bad it was good. This film is too long, badly written, underdeveloped, and stuffed full of unrelated pop culture references. It’s just sad.
Oh, and I just want to discuss the joke about Michael B. Jordan being mistaken for Michael Jordan because of his name. Are we really saying that in Looney Tunes world, the only thing that differentiates one Black person from another is their name?