NICHOLAS CHANG | REPEAT OFFENDERS
Maybe movies are a mistake. That’s what Warner Bros’s ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ will lead you to think, which should not be considered a movie. It’s a two-hour commercial, intended to reflect the most insufferable type of commercialism and suggest a competition between Warner Bros and Disney about whose conglomerate dick is bigger than the other. Don’t let yourself be mistaken. Space Jam: A New Legacy is NOT a love letter or tribute to Looney Tunes and every intellectual property owned by Warner Bros — instead, it’s a hate crime against movies and their respect towards mainstream audiences.
Set in the shared Warner Bros virtual space multiverse, Space Jam: A New Legacy follows a fictionalised version of LeBron James, who struggles to connect with his son Dominic (Cedric Joe) aspiration to become a video game developer. With LeBron as a basketballer, he doesn’t approve of his son’s dreams. When Dominic expresses an interest in Warner Bros’s software and artificial intelligence Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle), LeBron’s relationship with his son becomes strained. That’s where Al-G comes into play, who’s grown self-aware about his lack of humanity, and decides to trap both LeBron and Dominic in his virtual reality. He takes Dominic as his prisoner and promises to release him if LeBron successfully recruits a basketball team made entirely out of Looney Tunes characters and wins a basketball game against his team: The Goon Squad.
You can guess where A New Legacy goes from there. It’s virtually plotless as six credited screenwriters insert pop culture references and intellectual properties in literally every scene onwards. LeBron and Bugs Bunny (Jeff Bergman) travel to every property owned by Warner Bros to recruit the Looney Tunes into their basketball team. Guess which realities they travel to? The Matrix, Mad Max, DC World, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and even Casablanca. It makes way for some of the most forced and painful parodies ever captured digitally: Speedy Gonzales re-enacts the 'bullet time' scene from The Matrix, but this doesn’t disguise the abhorrent colour grading and off-putting visuals. In the Mad Max scene, LeBron’s costume design and the atrocious green screen make the parody look like it’s fan-made — unbelievably cheap for a big-budget project. It’s audacious enough that A New Legacy borrows archive footage of Casablanca, but the editing freezes the background to incorporate the hand-drawn animated characters into the scene. It’s painfully obvious. These scenes exist just so Warner Bros can show off how many properties they own. They have no reason to exist, yet Warner Bros forces their necessities by making it part of LeBron and Bugs Bunny’s plans to recruit the Looney Tunes.
Joe Pytka’s Space Jam is no masterpiece and never was going to be. At its best, it’s a concept so unusually surreal and wacky that it’s a miracle it ever got successfully pitched and greenlit. At worst, it’s a relentless commercialisation of 90s nostalgia, Looney Tunes and basketball combined to make for an utterly jarring watch. But despite Space Jam descending into uncanny-valley territory far too many times than it should be, Pytka’s direction knew how to have fun by going crazy with its surreal set-pieces that can be compared to a child’s interpretation of David Lynch. The original Space Jam veers between the lines of dream-logic entertainment, so-bad-it’s-good material, and being complete trash, but since it’s a genuinely charming product from the 1990s, there is some sense of heart it contains. And that’s where A New Legacy fails largely: it’s because it has no soul and humour at its centre.
A New Legacy showcases some talented hand-drawn animation in a movie that doesn’t deserve it at all. Consistently fluid and full of appropriate cheesiness and gleefulness, the animation feels like a good throwback to the good old times of the Looney Tunes. But once the tournament begins, with Al-G Rhythm abducting viewers and Warner Bros characters while downgrading the cartoon characters into CGI effects, A New Legacy’s visual spectacle turns unpleasant. Despite the hard-earned efforts of the special effects department, the CGI animation feels too clean and sterile, sometimes feeling unintentionally unsettling and completely missing the trashy charm of the original Space Jam. Ultimately, the mediocre visuals end up making A New Legacy indistinguishable from most visuals-heavy blockbusters to make the style entertaining to watch.
But generic visuals and unimpressive musical scores are the least of A New Legacy’s problems when its hypocritical virtue-signalling, vomit-inducing product placement and lazy writing overshadow the entire experience. Weirdly, A New Legacy is happy to ignore any sense of character development from Space Jam by making the Tune Squad initially incapable of playing basketball and requiring coaching from LeBron James. Didn’t Michael Jordan coach you cartoons before? Unless these characters are alternate versions from a different universe, this isn’t made clear, so I have to write this down as a plot hole. A New Legacy tries to build a sense of excitement in its leadup to the climactic tournament, yet its preparations in doing so are so forgettable and devoid of passion that, when the game begins, it’s never enjoyable. The editing chops the action to death, forcing us to process the events through off-putting CGI animation and cinematographically misguided decisions, and the intense stakes are missing.
Although character development is never something to expect in such a movie, most character personalities feel insufferably dull. While I’m sure LeBron’s relationship with his son may hit close to reality, the writing lets this aspect down massively. There are earnest intentions to portray a father-son relationship with emotional resonance, with Dom wanting to achieve his passions, yet LeBron not understanding his son’s best interests, but this storyline is constantly unfocused and fails to build upon its thematic depths. It’s further put off by a charmless lead performance from LeBron James, who lacks the partial energy that Michael Jordan carried. And yet, this storyline develops into a message so astonishingly hypocritical that it is massively insulting. The message is to be your true self and follow your vision… in a corporate-made movie that’s completely lacking in originality and imagination. There’s no doubt how uplifting this message is, but it’s been used hundreds of times in too many family-friendly movies, and seeing this in A New Legacy, which feels too commercial for its own good, makes the writing feel off-putting and not genuine.
On top of that, the tone completely fails, with A New Legacy relying on painful parodies and cringe-worthy gags to deliver the humour. That utterly random scene of Porky Pig and the Looney Tunes rapping is something I want erased from my mind permanently. You’re probably thinking of dismissing my criticisms by telling me it’s a movie for children only. If that’s the case, explain why there are references to Game of Thrones and how Rick and Morty snagged cameo appearances. Please explain why Pepé Le Pew has been removed from A New Legacy, yet it’s okay to include Alex and his droogs from A Clockwork Orange, a group of sexually violent and misogynistic men? Will the kids even understand or appreciate the references to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, and Casablanca? How is it that Pennywise from IT, a child-eating monster in the form of a clown, has made an appearance? These are adult references inexplicably popping up in a kids’ movie, you say? If a kid excitedly points out every reference in one viewing, then you should be concerned by what they’re watching in the first place. The unnecessary product placements indicate that children will struggle to understand the references, and adults will be too irritated by the immature antics of A New Legacy to enjoy the nostalgia being shoved down their throats. Unless A New Legacy is appealing to the hardcore fans of geek culture, the demographics are extremely confused to the point that it may not be a movie for anyone. This is a dangerous sign that signals the complete lack of care put towards the production.
Pop culture references are shoehorned in the background, cynically encouraging desperate moviegoers to partake in repeat viewings to spot them all, but what artistic purpose does this serve? All the characters and intellectual properties appearing in A New Legacy have no meaning. They exist to be there, and there’s no re-watchability factor to make the easter eggs eye-catching. Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One is guilty of committing this crime, becoming too reliant on its shallow portrayal of pop culture, but Spielberg provided his film with a sense of adventure to drive the entertainment factor. A New Legacy has no sense of adventure, no soul, and no heart. Instead, it is an ugly representation of the Hollywood industry as a whole and shows no care or respect for its audience. The only things it has in mind are to advertise all of Warner Bros’s IPs and make huge profits. It’s depressing to think that this is what people consider to be wholesome entertainment.
It genuinely baffles me to think that there are people who believe A New Legacy is an improvement over its predecessor. It dumbs down virtually everything in Space Jam, but in the process, removes all its guts and downplays the acid trip-like nature of the original film that allowed for so-bad-it’s-good viewing. A New Legacy shows how movies have fallen far from grace — guaranteed to become a success at the box office and on HBO Max so that Warner Bros has a stronger reason to churn out soulless cash-grabs from their IPs that makes them unstoppable. Meanwhile, aspiring filmmakers are struggling to start filming their passion projects, and we’re past the point where commercials are now considered cinema. Space Jam: A New Legacy is an irredeemably awful movie that has no reason to exist, and all it does is masquerade as feel-good entertainment that will further damage children’s and moviegoers’ perceptions of what movies should be. There’s no hope left for Hollywood, humanity, and cinema itself. We’re doomed.