There’s a scene some forty minutes into Space Jam: A New Legacy that sees Bugs Bunny outline the film. With a twitch of those iconic ears, the octogenarian toon then looks to camera and asides that it all sounds ‘awfully familiar’. He’s not wrong. Space Jam 2 is less new legacy than fusty rehash. Worse still, the gag doesn’t even land. It’s a wink and a nudge entirely lacking in heart. The fourth wall ain’t broken because it’s beyond repair, courtesy of a barrage of so called ‘in jokes’ that serve no purpose other than to advertise Warner Bros. as a rival to the Disney empire. It’s boring for the kids and baffling for the parents. In the era of the cinematic universe, A New Legacy is the lamest launch pad yet.
Hardly a slam dunk with the critics, the original Space Jam found enough success at the box office to warrant a sequel back in 1996. Commercially, if not creatively, so. Was Michael Jordan’s hard pass not the sign we all needed? The twenty five years that followed saw all from Jackie Chan to Tony Hawk touted as replacements, with only the failure of Looney Tunes: Back in Action halting progress along the way.
If it is love for the first film that has sustained the dream of a sequel for a quarter of a century, that’s only fleetingly apparent in the final product. A feature suffocated by incoherent, and grossly inappropriate, cameos. Quite who benefits from squeezing references to Mad Max, It and A Clockwork Orange into family fare is anyone’s guess. There was at least some logic when Spielberg did it for Ready Player One. The extra thirty minutes on Space Jam‘s runtime feels, likewise, no more warranted.
LeBron James is, at least, good value in the lead. As with Jordan before, the NBA legend brings charm and a winning smile to a fictionalised version of himself. He’s no actor – and it shows – but makes it work. Newcomer Ceyair J. Wright plays James’ son Darius, a computer whizz kid with a penchant for video game design. Darius may be capable on the court but finds no calling in basketball – much to the chagrin of his Dad. When James’ attempts to understand his son’s interests leads to his discovering a glitch in the game Darius has designed, the pair’s relationship is pushed to the brink.
And that’s when devious AI computeroid Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle – having a ball) throws in a curveball. It is whilst visiting Warner Bros. HQ that Darius and LeBron are sucked into the Server-Verse and subjected to the machinations of Rhythm. A father vs son, winner takes all basketball game beckons, with surprisingly high stakes on the cards. But how can LeBron possibly win when his team is comprised solely of two-dimensional toons? If the set up feels over-long and convoluted, the actual plot is wafer thin.
To the credit of all those at work behind the scenes, A New Legacy boasts strong visuals and casually impressive animation. The sort of thing one takes far too easily for granted these days. When the film’s exorbitant roundtable of writers hit their slapstick stride later on, that works too. And yet, the Looney Tunes were always so much more than cat and mouse sight gags. Lost here are their wit and sharp tongues, the anarchism and almost lyrical absurdity. All lost in the fog, folks. It’s hard even to see the old gang as being central to a film that is supposed to exist around them.