I was in a pub many years ago when Chipotle, the fast-casual burrito business, was still growing in popularity and adding new sites all over the country. A Chipotle burrito is reasonably economical, hearty, and consistent in its steadfastly moderate flavour profile, which is easy to see, especially for someone fresh out of college. In admiration of the burrito, a friend with financial ambitions commented, “It’s a terrific product.” What an odd way to discuss food, I thought. What a clever method to flatten anything by using a term that can also be applied to toasters, Roombas, and anything else mass-marketed for consistent sales. Yet Space Jam: A New Legacy, which opens in theatres and on HBO Max on July 16, is so saturated with corporate propaganda that it feels like the creators are looking for exactly that: not fulfilling cinema, not a compelling tale, not a good time at the movies, but “a wonderful product.”
Space Jam: A New Legacy is a confusing film directed by Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip), with seven writers credited for the storey and script. However, the plot is completely glossed over. It’s a father-son narrative about LeBron James (played by LeBron James), the world’s most famous basketball player, and his youngest son Dom (Cedric Jones, not his real son), and their struggle to connect. At the start of the movie, LeBron is cartoonishly obsessed on basketball, which he takes so seriously that he misses the fact that Dom, who is a good basketball player, truly wants to produce video games.
LeBron takes Dom to a meeting at Warner Bros. Studios, where execs (played by Sarah Silverman and Steven Yeun) pitch him on an intriguing new technology: an algorithm that can scan people and put them into any Warner Bros. property. LeBron James may appear in a Batman film, a Game of Thrones episode, or a Harry Potter film with the press of a button. The technology isn’t discussed further, but it’s enough for LeBron to dismiss it as the dumbest idea he’s ever heard and leave the conference, which is arguably the only rational thing that happens in this movie.
Unfortunately, the algorithm behind that new technology is a sapient artificial intelligence (played by Don Cheadle), and it wants revenge on LeBron for turning down the idea. Al-G Rhythm, as the AI is called, lures Dom and LeBron deep into the bowels of Warner Bros. and zaps them into the “Server-Verse,” a digital universe he rules, where every Warner Bros. franchise exists on its own planet. It then issues LeBron a challenge: Beat Al-G in a game of basketball, and LeBron and Dom can go. Lose, and they stay in the Server-Verse forever. And since LeBron and Dom are fighting with each other, Al-G is able to manipulate the younger James into playing on AI-G’s team, against his own father.
When LeBron is exiled to the Looney Tunes’ planet, where Bugs Bunny is the sole occupant, the storey simplifies significantly in the second part of the film. He says that Al-G has dispatched Bugs’ cartoon companions to more lucrative realms. They band together to assemble the rest of the Looney Tunes from all around the Server-Verse, which entails hunting them down in movies like The Matrix and Austin Powers. Scenes like this, for example:
While it’s easy to make fun of notions like this and a rapping Porky Pig, this is typical kids’ movie fare: wacky enough to make youngsters laugh while provoking a few knowing chuckles from stressed-out parents who barely have time to watch anything for grownups. Even with a fondness for the first Space Jam and the leniency required for many children’s films, it’s difficult not to be overwhelmed by so many questions when seeing A New Legacy. Consider the following scenario:
- Is this film’s plot truly about LeBron James “getting his son back” by… defeating his kid at basketball?
- Did they really expect LeBron James, one of the most personable and kind personalities in sports, to be a ruthless jerk to both his son and the Looney Tunes?
- Can someone explain the idea to have a lot of extras dressed up as characters from every Warner Bros. movie in the audience for the final game?
- Why is The Mask, alongside Eartha Kitt Catwoman and Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman, gesticulating in the background of every shot?
- Please, someone explain to me why the movie’s third act is a Spirit Halloween store come to life.
- Also, not to be excessively critical of The Children, but is having Pennywise the Clown and the Night King from Game of Thrones in the crowd the best idea? I used to be terrified of frightening clowns as a kid!
- How does Don Cheadle manage to sell nearly all of Al-G Rhythm’s lines? Is he the LeBron James of poor movie acting? Is that still true if LeBron is also starring in the same awful film?
The original Space Jam was created to promote the sale of sneakers. The new Space Jam is attempting to sell everything Warner Bros. has ever developed in a dizzying display of corporate supremacy. Space Jam: A New Legacy isn’t really a movie; it’s a two-hour marketing slideshow that teaches you about vertical integration and brand identity. Its viewers are led on a whirlwind tour of every Warner IP aimed toward every demographic: Wonder Woman’s Themyscira for girls and women, The Matrix for older males, Harry Potter for Old Millennials who haven’t kept up with the news, and so on. This is how Hollywood operates these days. This is the way blockbuster movies will be made in the future.
It’s like Kingdom Hearts, except without the heart. While the rationale of a desperate need to entertain youngsters with a feature film’s worth of Family Guy-style references may be plausible, watching it without it feels disgusting. Because only those who care about marketing and company profits, who see Space Jam: A New Legacy as a product that has been effectively sold, can find it enjoyable. It’s like your favourite team is winning a basketball game, except the squad isn’t on the screen. The firm that sold you the ticket is the one to blame.
Space Jam: A New Legacy premieres in theaters and on HBO Max on July 16.