At some point during Space Jam: A New Legacy, you will realise that what you’re watching is a feature-length advertisement. And after you arrive at that point, you will move on to the next distraction: what is it an advertisement for?
Could it be a $150 million sizzle reel created by WarnerMedia to appease investors? Is it something that LeBron James thought would help him sell more sneakers? Or is it merely a flex; something that exists just because it could? After all, the original Space Jam, which released in 1996, itself was a merchandising opportunity first and a film later. Had it not been for Michael Jordan’s popular Nike commercials featuring Bugs Bunny, no sweaty studio executive would’ve even thought of putting the two of them in a movie together.
Watch the Space Jam: A New Legacy trailer here:
The success of that film, whose cynical-minded origins were lost (understandably) on the kids that enjoyed it on TV and VHS, served as an alley-oop for LeBron, who’s been involved in the sequel for what seems like years now. But despite having filled Jordan’s shoes quite successfully on the basketball court, he is barely able to hold his own on screen, which would come as a surprise to anyone who saw him in Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck.
In Space Jam: A New Legacy, King James appears to be in a perpetual knife-fight with not just his limited range as a screen performer, but also with invisible lawyers and publicists that always seem to be lurking off-screen, glaring at him sinisterly.
There’s a fear that permeates the very bones of this movie, like it’s been stewed in a vat of sewer water overnight — I deliberately didn’t mention the word ‘soul’, because Space Jam 2 doesn’t have one. Burdened as it is with pleasing just about everybody and their mother, it’s terrified of stepping out of bounds. LeBron has an image to maintain, and while better actors than him have succeeded for decades at doing just that, they have also been lucky enough to not have to star in Space Jam 2.
This is a film so bad that I’ve seen actual television commercials with more artistic value. I’ll take it a step further, I’ve seen actual television commercials for Nike shoes that have more artistic value. I don’t know if it’s plain stupidity or just oversight, but the whole thing hinges on the premise that Warner Bros — a studio that owns everything from Game of Thrones and Harry Potter to the Matrix and Casablanca — makes movies by having an algorithm crunch data and spit out its recommendations.
Did they not spot the irony? Do they not realise that the existence of a Kissing Booth trilogy and two rival projects inspired by Tiger King proves that computers are already deciding what gets made and what doesn’t?
If the original Space Jam was the natural culmination of 90s excess, then Space Jam 2 is a movie befitting of the apocalyptic environment in which it has been released. The plot remains roughly the same, as if even the bot that barfed it out couldn’t be bothered to put its back into it. A star athlete is sucked into a fantasy world where they must participate in a basketball game against cartoons, with cartoons. While the stakes were unnecessarily heightened in the first film, they’re more personal this time around.
LeBron doesn’t have to save the world, but he does have to save his relationship with his son. There’s an interesting movie about parenthood in there somewhere, especially Black parenthood. But neither director Malcolm D Lee nor his team of six — yes, six — screenwriters is able to find it. One of those six writers is Terence Nance, who was originally hired to direct before being booted off the project because his vision didn’t align with the studio’s. He even filmed a few scenes, and in one interview said that Space Jam 2 ‘is going to disrupt everything’.
What’s even more confounding is that none other than Ryan Coogler, the director of Black Panther, is a producer on this, sort of like Ivan Reitman was on the first one. Anyway, neither is Space Jam 2 going to disrupt anything other than your equilibrium, nor does it even remotely resemble anything that Coogler has done in the past. It will, however, make you wonder how things could’ve gone so wrong.
It isn’t impossible to make a good movie despite the demands of capitalism. Just ask Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the patron saints of turning bad ideas into bankable franchises. There’s no way that they weren’t approached to direct this, unless Warner Bros and LeBron were determined a person of colour be at the helm, which is also a very real possibility.
Also read: The Suicide Squad review: The craziest mainstream superhero movie since Ragnarok
But even the wokeness seems pre-meditated. Consider how the film uses Princess Diana (not that one, although that wouldn’t have been surprising, considering the cameos by A Clockwork Orange characters), who appears in a sort of animated remake of the opening scene of Wonder Woman 1984, only to bark orders at Lola Bunny, voiced by Zendaya. None of it works because none of it feels sincere.
If a movie’s mission is to prioritise shareholders over children, that’s when you know the entire industry needs to call a time-out.
Space Jam: A New Legacy
Director – Malcolm D Lee
Cast – LeBron James, Don Cheadle, Cedric Joe, Sonequa Martin-Green, Zendaya, Jeff Bergman, Eric Bauza
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The author tweets @RohanNaahar
Space Jam: A New Legacy is available to stream in India on BookMyShow Stream, Google Play, iTunes, and YouTube