Space Jam A New Legacy39; Review LeBron James against the
The Most Cursed Moments in Space Jam: A New Legacy, Ranked Fri, 16 Jul 2021 06:00:00 -0700-Come on and slam, and welcome back 'Space Jam,' which sees LeBron James go up against an evil AI alongside the Tune Squad.
To be perfectly fair to everyone, and to somewhat soften the blow that’s coming in a sentence or three, I want you to know that I had the exact same reaction as (almost) everyone else when the very first trailer for Malcolm D. Lee’s Space Jam: A New Legacy dropped a few months ago. It looked like the kind of bizarre and garish film that you’d inevitably get after an AT&T executive, already stoked up on the potential performance of their recent acquisition, Warner Bros., and keen to rev up the Tune Squad for a brand-new generation, strolled into a pitch meeting with a host of facts and figures derived from focus groups, social media metrics, and a tackle box full of stimulants. To say that it’s an immensely cynical enterprise is an understatement, and it’s surprising that Warner Bros. had the restraint to refrain from mentioning HBO Max outright in the text of the film itself, but, midway through watching it, I began to wonder whether or not that was this particular movie’s fault, or, more precisely, the original sin of the original Space Jam. Both are mildly amusing exercises in brand management, with the original helping to soften the NBA’s, and specifically Michael Jordan’s, image — sure, he was a badass, the greatest ballplayer of all time (Go Heels), but he wasn’t cuddly, and neither was the league, coming out of the ’80s and early ’90s — while also ensuring the Looney Tunes stable would remain relevant through the ’90s, firmly stuck to the ribs of every newly-minted Jordan fan that left those theaters back in 1996, held right near their hearts. It worked like gangbusters, and ensured you’d see Bugs Bunny or the Tazmanian Devil on t-shirts for the next 10 years, ones perhaps purchased at the WB Store at your local mall.
It’s somewhat easy to forget that the majority of the Tunes output in the ’80s and ’90s came from theatrically released and hastily-cut-together cartoon compilations, nostalgiac revivals in the vein of That’s Entertainment that never sought to make a case for their relevance and, in the process, also vandalized legitimately brilliant cinema. Space Jam brought them back to the cultural forefront in a big way before it all went tits up in 2003 after Back in Action underperformed at the box office. So, from a financial standpoint, the Tunes stable is in a spot similar to that of the Muppets: Their parent company now has no idea whatsoever to do with them, (though Disney, at the very least, did the smart thing and made their most valuable work — The Muppet Show — available to stream), and a new Space Jam, one that could piggyback off of the global love for basketball that’s arisen over the decades since the original film, while also inuring new audience with a love for these characters, read like a good idea, especially with the “new” face of the sport, LeBron James, at its center. That’s all well and good: It is what you are signing up for when you buy a ticket for a Space Jam film, unless you’re hoping it’s about martian jelly-making, which, well, I’m sorry that your niche taste hasn’t been catered to by Hollywood. But where Space Jam: A New Legacy falters is its attempts to expand that deep-seated love for the Looney Tunes that its audience has to the whole of Warner Bros, and it causes the film to lose whatever modest amount of focus it had to start with and bloats it to an unbearable length.
There’s an amusing — if not entirely cogent — conceit at the heart of Lee’s film: LeBron James (James), a famous basketball player, is sucked into the world of the Tunes not because of, say, the Mon-Stars returning or whatever, but because an algorithm demanded it. Anthropomorphized by Don Cheadle, the algorithm’s at the heart of the Warner Bros.’ digital media library, where all their fictional characters live in server farms like they’re post-human consciousnesses in Black Mirror‘s “San Junipero,” and he sees James as an opportunity: It can leverage his superstardom and that of the properties and “become the true King” or whatever. The point is, the film knows what it’s doing, somewhat, and there’s an amusing contrast between the visceral and emotional connections that we have with the works cited here — Casablanca, Mad Max: Fury Road, the DC superhero stable — and the procedurally-generated horseshit that Cheadle’s character comes up with. All that talent, all that computing power, and all you get is a basketball game. A basketball game that is, in fact, stolen from James’ fictional son Dom (Cedric Joe), who wants to program video games instead of playing basketball like his patriarch and older brother but is making a basketball (video) game of his own. Cheadle kidnaps Dom in order to force James to play the game and tempts the kid with the chance to be able to school his dad at his own game. As far as Faustian bargains go, I am pretty sure that’s an unimpeachable one for a nine-year-old.
So, James is banished to Tune World, which has been all but abandoned by its inhabitants, save for Bugs, who is doing his best to stay sane while being The Last Tune On Earth. Akron’s favorite son recruits the Rabbit to help him get a team together, and, of course, this means getting the gang from all the various properties that they’ve been pawned off to. Yes, they visit lots of worlds, and it’s moderately amusing to watch them do so, especially since James’ form changes depending on where they land: In Tune World, he’s a cartoon; in DC World, he’s the Robin to Bugs’ Batman, and so on and so forth. Problem is, there’s still an hour of movie left by the time everyone gets together and they start montage-ing, and I’m sure even the most ardent fans of LeBron — you know, the ones who thought The Decision was excellent prime-time viewing — or the Tunes will have tuned out by the time that a variety of costumed characters from all across Warner Bros.’ various films and television shows come streaming in, Ready Player One-style to watch James and the Tune Squad face off against CGI superpowered versions of Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis, among others. That’s when the digital effects work begins to overwhelm everything, and the brief moments of faux-cel animation strewn throughout start to feel like a blissful, half-forgotten dream compared to the CGI monstrosities that the Tune Squad becomes because Cheadle’s character demands it. There’s even some recognition of that ugliness in the film itself, despite how “expensive” it may look, as Daffy Duck says. It is as not true to these characters as the Loonatics were back in 2003, when they tried to make X-Treme Goth Tune Heroes happen.
Again, there’s the argument for authenticity, and where the first Space Jam was about you having a little of MJ in you, even if you don’t have the Special Sauce, A New Legacy is ultimately about being real — authentic — for yourself and others. James’ accomplishments on the court are as incredible and as unimpeachable as those of animation gurus like Tex Avery or Chuck Jones, or the films of George Miller or Michael Curtiz, or the work of guys like Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and contrivance is no way to properly pay tribute to these great feats and/or works of art. It’s a hell of a choice to make your own thesis statement your undoing, and I kind of admire Lee and company for straight-up admitting the outright uselessness of this endeavor in the grand scheme of things. In our IP-saturated era, it’s an interesting corrective to see the ethoses of executives at these companies skewered as if they were themselves being hoisted by their own petards, and it is legitimately the last thing that I expected out of a Space Jam movie. So, while I’m not going to argue that this is particularly worthwhile cinema for anyone but the most die-hard Lakers fan or folks under the ages of 15, I will say that Space Jam: A New Legacy isn’t the antichrist (besides, in a biblical sense, wouldn’t that be one of the directors who cash in their indie cred for a shot at a Marvel movie or something?) and it is, frankly, not worth getting mad about. Moreover, it lives up to the odd and already profit-oriented precedent set by the original, though I doubt it will accumulate the same kind of cultural cachet that will make it a hit with Allston frat boys 20 years on like MJ’s did.
'Space Jam: A New Legacy' Review: LeBron James against the … Fri, 16 Jul 2021 06:00:00 -0700-To quickly recap, A New Legacy, like its predecessor, leads up to a basketball game between the Looney Tunes and a team of supernatural basketball players. (In …
On paper, a second Space Jam movie doesn’t seem like a terrible idea. Though the original movie, released in 1996, is either hated or loved, with no in-between, by those who’ve seen it, it’s had enough of a cultural impact that an update feels like an inevitability. So now we have Space Jam: A New Legacy, in theaters and on HBO Max, with LeBron James stepping into Michael Jordan’s sneakers as an NBA champion forced to team up with the Looney Tunes.
Though James is an incredibly charming presence both on- and off-screen, he’s no match for the tidal wave of cursed energy that is A New Legacy. The moments of full-body cringe are pretty relentless, but the five most accursed are as follows.
5. The CGI Tunes
To quickly recap, A New Legacy, like its predecessor, leads up to a basketball game between the Looney Tunes and a team of supernatural basketball players. (In this case they’re not the Monstars but the “Goon Squad,” which is of course a clever play on the “Tune Squad.”) Right before the game begins, the mastermind behind the match, Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle), a Warner Bros. algorithm, transforms all of the Tune Squad from their 2D selves into 3D, CG monstrosities. The 2D animation in this movie isn’t anything to write home about, but the 3D animation—well, it still isn’t, but it stands out for different reasons. If anything, A New Legacy treads into the territory of the Sonic the Hedgehog movie by rendering creatures that were never meant to appear real into realistic forms, and the result is frankly upsetting, not just because their motions are suddenly slightly stilted. Take, for instance, the texture of Porky Pig’s flesh. His new, weird, soft sponginess is unsettling at best, and though his furred friends are a little less off-putting, it’s not by much. Ironically, the Tunes also hate being 3D, though to know that one is cursed does not excuse said cursedness.
4. The Matrix “spoof”
Shortly after James is first sucked into what is referred to as the “Server-verse,” he and Bugs take a joyride through several other Warner Bros. properties. The idea of the sequence is ostensibly corporate synergy, reminding viewers how much they love the movies and TV shows that Warner Bros. has been responsible for up to this point, but it has a rather different effect. Watching characters like Road Runner and Granny drop into movies like Mad Max: Fury Road only makes viewers—or me, at least—wish they were watching those movies instead. But the worst example is the movie’s “parody” of Trinity’s introduction in The Matrix, a concept so stale that it was already a cliché when Shrek did it more than 20 years ago.
3. The whole concept of Al G. Rhythm
First things first, the name “Al G. Rhythm” is an eyeroll in and of itself, but the concept of the character is actually kind of fascinating. The A-plot of the film is that LeBron needs to reconnect with his son Dom (played by actor Cedric Joe, not James’ actual son), and the B-plot involves Al pitting them against each other in video game basketball after James rejects Al’s ideas. The thing about this storyline is that it literally begins with Al showing LeBron a clip reel of what basically happens right afterward in the movie, e.g. LeBron as Batman, LeBron in Game of Thrones, etc. In the meeting, LeBron says that he hates these algorithmically generated ideas, but then … the movie goes ahead and does these things anyway? It’d make more sense if Al was somehow redeemed, but he isn’t. He’s a villain until the very end. Whatever spark of self-awareness is present in the film positing that 1) studios are just churning out content based on an algorithm and that 2) they suck, is snuffed out by the film’s end.
2. Everything that Granny does
Though Granny has always been kind of a rowdy character, in A New Legacy, she feels fully played out. The entire concept of Granny, i.e. “an old lady but she is sassy,” is a genre of joke that stopped being funny at least a decade ago. (At least they don’t make her rap?) Watching her do flips on her walker makes me want to walk into the sea.
1. The Notorious P.I.G. rap
Notorious P.I.G., more like Notorious T.I.B. (Turned Into Bacon, because I am going to turn him into bacon for this abomination of a rap.)
And for good measure, here is one un-cursed thing about the movie:
1. Don Cheadle, somehow
Despite being saddled with arguably the most thankless role in the film, Don Cheadle somehow sells every single line he’s given. Even though he’s stranded in a greenscreen void, and even after he’s turned into a giant CGI monster toward the end of the film, he’s somehow still fun to watch. Don Cheadle has never given a bad performance, and he never will.
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– July 16, 2021
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