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To many, Joe Pytka’s 1996 hit Space Jam was little more than crossover silliness, a marriage of live-action and animation that did not push the medium’s boundaries anywhere like Robert Zemeckis’ Who Framed Rodger Rabbit, and a crazy little pop cultural toons-meet-sports-star splurge happily at home in the crazy era that is the ‘90s. But to a great many more of us, this movie means a good deal more. It was a fun slam dunking childhood highlight, that celebrated a star who exceeded the sports he played, and likewise an array of iconic zany cartoon characters who arguably had their final hurrah in this era, before the mid-noughties saw fit to repackage them and later eras doubled down on that. Call it nostalgia or childhood, but for me, Space Jam holds a special joyous place in my heart, not least because it was the first film I fully recall seeing on the magical big screen.
So, when Space Jam: A New Legacy was confirmed, I – like many – had mixed feelings. A sequel was so long in development that the idea had all but extinguished, not only that but the shape of these characters in culture has changed so drastically in the last 20+ years. And yet, what a great chance this could be to sit back and relish those fun times again. Sadly, A New Legacy is precisely what this film personifies but that “new legacy” in question plays a far more corporate game.
The film stars LeBron James as, well, himself, as he and his young son begin drifting apart, that is until they are invited to meet some Warner Brothers executives with an exciting offer for LeBron. Sadly things do not quite go as smoothly as planned, leaving an AI (Don Cheadle) within their software, with a bit of a bee in his virtual bonnet. So he sees to it that James and his son are brought into his world, the Warner Brothers Serververse, where he sets up a high stakes basketball game where freedom and family are on the line, and LeBron only has a few toons of the looney variety on which to rely.
Much like the vastly disappointing and misjudged Ralph Breaks The Internet, Space Jam: A New Legacy lands in the uncomfortable space between the reprehensible The Emoji Movie and the enormous fun of Ready Player One. But where the latter Spielberg epic used its toy box of film and TV history in a passionate display of affection wrapped in a great story on its own right, this – like the other aforementioned animated works – feels less like the work of a fan or filmmaker, and more like the product of mind mapping in a boardroom meeting. Where all of whom that attended have only read notes about the original film and some of the other cool s**t their company own.
A New Legacy is virtually a $150 million advert for HBO Max and flex of the muscle for Warner Brothers and their expanding movie/TV library. The Tunes themselves are of course welcome back on the big screen (for the first time since 2003’s Looney Tunes: Back in Action, which – though flawed – did so much of this better) but get kind of sidelined in their own film or dragged into some modernised sequences and ambivalent family drama that plays out like a Hook-esque story but way less enjoyable. You cannot escape the fact that, for all this throws at the screen, from ‘60s and ‘90s Batman characters to Pennywise and the Droogs, it is all a strangely unexciting and rather artificial, and often head scratching on a plot-level. Even the soundtrack is an utter letdown, failing to capture anywhere near the same level of excitement as the original film and summoning no standout beats.
It’s not all bad mind, the visuals are astonishing, there are some fun sequences (especially in Toon world), LeBron gives it a good go ( even if, and I mean this with the greatest respect, he is nowhere near the star that Michael Jordan was), and Don Cheadle clearly has the utmost fun as the AI baddie Al-G-Rhythm and by far steals the show live-action wise (though there is a goofily fun “cameo” that gets a well earned chuckle). Plus you can always play spot the character/film/reference for a few kicks but really, where the original seemed to slam dunk its celebrations of all that is looney, toons, and its family dynamics, this feels strangely unmoving and coldly corporate on most fronts.
A great High-res screensaver perhaps but like a screensaver, there’s nothing much behind it but codes and tech. Not worth the wait sadly.
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