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Basketball fans can waste hours, weeks… lifetimes debating who the greatest player in NBA history is. And while iconic players like Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, and Magic Johnson tend to receive votes, the argument really has boiled down to Michael Jordan versus LeBron James. Now, talent isn’t the barometer, because both men were (and are) extraordinary basketball players. So Jordan fans point at his six championships all with the Chicago Bulls, and the fact that he led two separate “three-peats” in his career. James champions, however, celebrate the fact that this athletic phenom has led three separate teams to championships, and might be playing in an era where the league has more stars.
But now, I can tell you at least one that Michael Jordan does better than LeBron James, and the comparison isn’t even close. MJ made a better Space Jam movie. So much so that James’ should be discarded, and never spoken of again.
The original Space Jam, released in 1996, cleverly capitalized on the global popularity of Jordan by dropping the NBA All-Star into the animated world of Looney Tunes. Knowing they needed some talent to win a basketball game, Bugs Bunny and company draft Jordan into their exaggerated existence, but His Airness did a decent job sharing the spotlight with his zany co-stars, and the film has enjoyed a sweet nostalgic spot in the hearts of Millennials. The sequel, Space Jam: A New Legacy, doesn’t deserve such love, and here’s why.
Space Jam: A New Legacy is a soulless, two-hour commercial for the Warner Bros. catalogue.
Some brand synergy is to be expected in Space Jam: A New Legacy. It’s not like Jordan covered up his Nike’s or avoided swigging Gatorade in the first film. And he’s sharing the screen with WB animated characters, so there’s an understanding that the feature serves as marketing for both brands, Jordan’s and Warner’s.
Space Jam: A New Legacy takes that concept and exploits it to an extent I didn’t think was possible. This hodgepodge can’t go five minutes without reminding the audience of the existence of Warner Bros., the studio’s various franchises, or the characters that make up WB’s vast catalogue. Several references that get shoehorned into the story will go WAY over the heads of your young ones. Unless, you know, your kids love watching Mad Max: Fury Road or Casablanca.
Don’t all kids love Casablanca?
During one painfully awkward detour, LeBron James and Bugs Bunny end up in DC World. The plot doesn’t need this pitstop. The sequence exists to promote the DC characters who exist under WB’s umbrella, hoping you’ll feel compelled to buy a toy after your screening.
You know how rides at theme parks shamelessly spit patrons out into the gift shop, basically daring them not to pick up souvenirs we don’t need? Space Jam: A New Legacy is the cinematic version of that crass practice.
The culmination of this embarrassing marketing tactic occurs during the predictable “Big Game” in the finale. In an effort to possibly intimidate LeBron, the film’s villain -- played by Don Cheadle, the only person on screen having fun -- makes sure that the virtual court is surrounded by every known character owned by WB. But unlike, say, Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, which deftly created Batman, King Kong, and The Iron Giant through digital wizardry, Space Jam: A New Legacy populates the backgrounds of scenes with bad cosplay versions of completely random WB characters. I did my best to scour the backgrounds during the game (because the action on the court was inconsequential), and I know I spotted Will Smith’s Wild Wild West character, the Adam West version of Batman, and the delinquents from Stanley Kubrick’s uncomfortable A Clockwork Orange standing courtside, cheering on LeBron James and the Looney Tunes gang.
Don’t all kids love A Clockwork Orange?
LeBron James looks like he has no interest in Space Jam: A New Legacy, so why should we?
This fact surprised me, because LeBron James stole a few scenes from Bill Hader in Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck, and in general comes across as a confident, charismatic individual from what the world can see through his abundant exposure in sports media. But James, from his first scene, comes off as stiff, tentative, uncomfortable and bored throughout Space Jam: A New Legacy. It’s almost as if the NBA superstar never fully bought into the concept of plunging his persona into the Looney Tunes machine, and while he allowed a few jokes to be made at his expense, the movie’s never fun.
One decision made by the script (credited to six different writers) might have doomed Space Jam: A New Legacy before it even stepped on the court. LeBron James, playing essentially himself, expects his sons to love basketball. But his youngest, Dom (Cedric Joe), would prefer to design video games. LeBron isolates the kid for this reason, and struggles to connect. So when the movie’s antagonist, Al G. Rhythm (Cheadle), recruits Dom to lead a team against his father in cyberspace, you end up cheering for Dom and against LeBron, Bugs and the Toon Squad.
Was that the intention? To root against the world’s best basketball player, because you side with his ostracized son? Maybe that was the bold move attempted by director Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip, The Best Man franchise) and his team. If so, it's revolutionary. Ill-advised, but revolutionary. How else do you explain why a studio somehow convinced the world’s most popular basketball star to blow the dust off of a nearly 25-year-old property and carry it on his shoulders, then design it so the audience hates him?