Way back in the ancient era of the 1990s, a million dollar partnership was beginning to form. Michael Jordan was one of the most prolific and successful athletes of the time, with everything he touched seemingly pulling in oodles of money. Naturally, brands of all kinds quickly attempted to attach themselves to his star power in hopes of achieving just a sliver of success. One of the more hesitant of these brands was Warner Brothers, who had be requested by Jordan personally to utilize their icon Bugs Bunny in an ad campaign dubbed “Hare Jordan”. After seeing the success the campaign garnered, WB had no choice but to take this project to the next level and green light a full fledged film starring the NBA’s hottest star and the zany cast of the Looney Tunes.
The original Space Jam wasn’t shy about its intentions. In many ways it was a 90 minute ad, created to draw attention to Jordan’s own endeavors and revitalize the Looney Tune brand for a new age. Despite its apparent cash grab tendencies, the film was still an impressive achievement in the world of animation, as it was one of the first feature film to be shot on a virtual studio, with 360 degree cameras and motion trackers utilized to create a passable blend of live action and animation. Despite its flaws, many people still remember it fondly for its trademark Warner Bros. charm and goofy encapsulation of the 90s. The film managed to become a box office success, and it was only a matter of time before a sequel was brought to the table.
Plans for a sequel began as early as the original’s release year, 1996. The film was to follow Jordan and the Tunes teaming up once again to defeat another intergalactic threat named Beserk-O in a game of high stakes basketball, but Jordan turned it down. From there, WB through around several potential spinoffs, including Spy Jame with Jackie Chan (which would ironically go on to form Looney Tunes: Back in Action!), Golf Jam with Tiger Woods, and Skate Jam with Tony Hawk. None of these ideas gained any traction, however, with the Looney Tunes quietly disappearing from theatrical films for nearly 20 years.
But low and behold, Warner Brothers has blessed us with prime nostalgia bait like every other major studio today. Space Jam: A New Legacy gives us a similar story to the original, but this time upping the scope by including not only the Looney Tunes, but nearly every major WB film property. DC Comics? It’s here! Game of Thrones? it’s here! A Clockwork Orange? It’s here! The nuns from the heavily violent, sexual and religiously blasphemous 1971 film The Devils? What are you stupid? Of course they’re here! In an attempt to triumphantly flex the intellectual properties the company owns (most of which aren’t even consistently used), WB has created a film more concerned with showing off all its references in the most bizarre way possible than actually doing something of note with these IPs. Nearly every reference feels pointless, void of creativity and downright confusing when you remember this movie is supposed to be for kids. If this was a ploy to engaged adults who may have grown up with Space Jam, such as myself, then this just feels like shameless pandering. This film felt like it sucked the soul out of the original in order to create an even bigger shameless advertisement, causing me to struggle to understand why this movie should even exist.
This time around NBA legend Michael Jordan is replaced with modern NBA legend Lebron James, who had been attached to the project since 2014. James is stuck in a dilemma with his youngest son, Dominic (Dom), who feels pressured by his dad to excel in basketball while his true passion lies in video game development. After being offered an opportunity by Warner Brothers that would see James digitally placed in their movies, Lebron turns it down, referring to the idea as stupid in hilariously ironic fashion. This angers the Warner Brothers A.I. that came up with the idea, Al G. Rhythm (great name, guys) played by an admittedly silly Don Cheadle. Rhythm then kidnaps Lebron and Dom by sucking them into the Warner Brothers Serververse, a digital world housing all of the company’s I.P.’s in their own distinct worlds. After turning Dom to his side, Rhythm dumps Lebron into Tune World, where he meets up with Bugs Bunny and embarks on a multi-dimensional quest to put together an all-star basketball team for a game with his son’s and his own freedom hanging in the balance.
Sound familiar? That’s because its give or take the same plot as the first film. The stakes are about the same, and many of the story beats are repeated. Form a team, play basketball, lose in the first half, win in the second half. It’s a tried sports film timeline that has been repeated dozens of times even outside the world of Space Jam. Everyone loves a good underdog story, but these familiar tales begin to grow stale over time and loses the heart that goes into these tales. It’s honestly hard to find the heart in this movie. The entire thing, similar to the first one, seems like a catalyst for the star’s ego. Throughout the film Lebron is constantly stroked and deified in the least self-aware ways possible. He’s treated as this huge icon (which, admittedly, he is) but do little to make him a character worth caring about. His conflict with son wanting to be a video game designer feels half-baked at best, generating a boring “be yourself” message that any kid could get from a hundred other movies. His character flip flops between being supportive to randomly unsupportive for the sake of plot progression, all to lead up to a big soppy father/son moment where he accepts his son as he is (which is weird because its not like his son even dislikes basketball, which would have been more interesting). Even on the court Lebron underperforms. While Jordan was pivotal to the Looney Tunes winning in the first film, Lebron honestly feels like deadweight. I hate to harp on the guy because he isn’t an actor, but damn does he just seem to be on autopilot here. Hard to blame him though, as the script really doesn’t do anyone any favors.
As for the Looney Tunes…they’re fine. It’s the same song and dance with them to be expected, but its hard to ignore the lack of charm on display here that made the Looney Tunes enjoyable to watch in the first place. Their characterizations are halfhearted, with most of them regulated to background noise. The voice actors at least do a good job, with even Zendaya playing the role of Lola Bunny fairly well for the only non-voice actor on the roster. Even still, they aren’t given much to do outside of their usual schtick and delivering some cringey pop culture references (see the battle rap scene). Don Cheadle as the maniacal Al G. Rhythm is probably the best aspect of the film, with his smarmy, over the top performance elevating the terrible writing he’s been given. Yet, he’s not enough to make the movie bearable, but he does provide some relief whenever he’s on screen. The celebrity cameos in the film are real head scratchers, not making a lick of difference to the plot of the movie except to have recognizable faces. They really hit gold with Bill Murray in the first film, and the small appearances of actors like Steven Yeun and Sarah Silverman don’t do much but give themselves a fat WB paycheck (which I respect). There is one mildly funny cameo that I won’t spoil, even if its pretty obvious.
The film’s animation is its biggest selling point, but even then it contributes to powerful sensory overload. The 2D animated segments are far too brief in my opinion, but they’re nice to see as a reminder to the good old days. When the film transitions into its live action/3D animated segments is when the real headaches begin. The updated Tunes don’t look terrible in motion, but I much more preferred the colorful pastel coloring compared to the realistic and neon designs of these later segments. There’s so much visual flare on display that gets way too cluttered and messy. It’s indicative of the modern age and technological advancements, but sometimes it’s hard to beat the classics. I’m sure kids will enjoy it because its such powerful visual stimulation, but for a bitter old 25 year old like myself, it’s painfully style over substance. Speaking of the animation, I’ve been reading about several cases where animators for the film were not credited on the final release. Animation is one of the most meticulous and time consuming parts of any film production, and to have your name left off the credits has got to be a gut punch no matter how small a mark you made. The animation industry has been exploited for a very long time now, and I hope things will begin to change sooner rather than later.
For many, the true selling point of this film was not Lebron or the Looney Tunes, but otherworldly promise of the showcasing of several Warner Brothers-owned characters. The trailer for the film showed off a IP smorgasbord on par with Ready Player One. Sometimes these IPs are used in one-off skits that boil down to “wouldn’t it be funny if [insert Looney Tunes character] was in [insert WB movie]?”. Road Runner and Wile-E-Coyote in Mad Max Fury Road. Yosemite Sam in Casablanca. Granny and Speedy Gonzales in The Matrix for…some reason. These moments are brief and for the most part pointless, as they don’t have the time to really make use of these settings in any fun on meaningful way. The rest of the film’s IP flex is through its background characters, which is such a bizarre and boring way to go about showing off these characters. Why is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze from Batman and Robin and Pennywise from IT just hanging out watching the basketball game? Why aren’t they playing for the villain? Think of all the cool interactions the could have had with Lebron and the Tunes. Would it have still been shameless? Of course, but that’s Space Jam. It would have at least justified using the Warner Bros. movie universe as the setting for the film, integrating these timeless characters into the film’s plot rather than just having them be eye candy. For eagle-eyed viewers, some of the choices for these background characters are incredibly bizarre. Like, why are the Droogs from A Clockwork Orange here? There was a big old fit thrown before the movie released about WB removing Pepe Le Pew from the film because of his enforcement of sexual assault tendencies since his entire character revolved around endlessly pursuing the love of a cat who did not want anything to do with him. Fine, I don’t care. It’s WB’s movie and they can do what they want, but now why did they go and include actual literal rapists in their film? Hard to earn social points from audiences when you can’t help but be stupidly hypocritical.
If this was just suppose to be a mindless nostalgia bait for older audiences and the equivalent of jingling keys for younger audiences, then this film succeeds tenfold. This film is not only a product of its time, but an unabashedly unashamed PRODUCT. Meant to push merchandise for both Lebron James and Warner Brothers, the film does the bare minimum in its story and writing, relying on its overly stylized visuals and incessant pop culture references to assumingely catch meme lightning and drum up publicity. For all of the actual creatives involved here, I hope they got a big fat paycheck that will go to fund actual meaningful and entertaining projects in the future. Everything about this film feels like it was created by the two studio-heads featured in the first half of the film: out of touch, thoughtless and failing to see even the tiniest bit of irony in what they are doing. Lebron called their idea to put him in movies stupid, and unbeknownst to him, he perfectly encapsulated what this movie is.
Gin and Space Jam
There’s no denying the best way to enjoy this movie is with a drink in hand, but just because the movie is a dumpster fire doesn’t mean the drink has to be! The gin and jam has been a popular combination of spirit and fruit fo quite a while now, but for this cocktail we are upping the presentation by giving it a glowing, galaxy-like appearance with color changing properties. To do this, we are enlisting the aid of butterfly pea flowers!
Commonly used for tea, these flowers give clear liquors a beautifully deep, purple hue after being soaked in it for a few hours. The real magic happens when the infused alcohol comes into contact with something acidic, be it lemon juice or club soda. The purple begins to evolve into pink, creating a visually stunning upgrade to normal gin. We’ll be experimenting with these flowers a bit going forward, so stay tuned for more!
Buy Butterfly Pea Flowers here.
- 2oz butterfly pea infused gin
- 3/4oz lemon juice
- Tablespoon of blueberry jam
- Club soda
- To make the infused gin, add 8 butterfly pea flowers per 1 cup of gin to a sealed container and chill for a few hours, preferably over night, until the gin turns purple. Remove the flowers.
- In a glass, pour in the gin, then pour in the lemon juice to change its color.
- Add ice then top with club soda.
- Stir in a tablespoon of blueberry jam.