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‘Space Jam 2’: Corporatism And LeHollywood Extortion

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The trailer for “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” featuring the media-cradled professional basketball player LeBron James, released on April 3 with high expectations. Joe Pytka’s 1996 classic “Space Jam” features Michael Jordan (MJ) kidnapped into the world of “Looney Toons” to play with beloved characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck in a high-stakes basketball game against a team of juiced up goons to emancipate the Toons from indentured servitude by an alien amusement park owner. Although many anticipated this movie to be a direct sequel after the events of the original, “Space Jam, A New Legacy” is a reboot oriented around Akron Ohio’s King of the basketball court, LeBron James, and his fictional son, Dom, who is kidnapped into a digital world — rest assured it is not the plot of “Digimon.” LeBron is faced with playing a high-stakes basketball game against an elite super team to win his son back. Fans of the original movie, LeBron connoisseurs, critics, and basketball lovers alike took no time and swarmed to social media to give their mixed opinions about the movie trailer. 

A Hard Pass: Slightly Unoriginal Corporate Vomit

At its core, the effects of “A New Legacy” by 1996’s standards are outstandingly brilliant as the budget squashes the previous film, with $150 million in the bank compared to the original’s $80 million. However, with “A New Legacy” being such a high-budget movie flooded with beautiful CGI, high-profile actors and intellectual property, what will it take to be considered a worthy successor to a highly unique film? Operating with much fewer resources at the time, “Space Jam” is regarded as one of the most successful basketball movies of all time, grossing more than $250 million at the box office with a cast featuring just MJ, a few of his basketball buddies and Danny Devito. 

In contrast, Warner Bros. Pictures and director Malcolm D. Lee spared no penny bringing in a coalition of A-list celebrities like Don Cheadle and Jim Carrey, unleashing cameos of other franchises and overloading the advanced graphical effects. Indeed, it appears to be a visually spectacular successor to the beloved classic, and so far the magnum opus of Lee’s directing career as well as LeBron’s Hollywood gig. 

Yet, it could all be superficial, a smokescreen that hides the boring unoriginality of the movie; similar to how LeBron believed that his handmade super teams were insufficient when he begged to trade for Derrick Rose and Isaiah Thomas while having Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Matthew Dellavedova on the roster. Many argue that this reboot is simply a cash grab, using its name and popularity from LeBron to siphon nostalgia from ‘90s fans and enamor the youth dreaming of seeing LeBron reverse his hairline through highly meticulous, award-winning CGI.

Contrary to the original film where the Toons retained their signature cartoonish style in a realistic setting, “A New Legacy” adopts modern-day’s 3-D style, accentuating textures like Bugs Bunny’s fur. After being teased early on in 2020, the long-awaited new jersey designs were revealed to be incredibly flashy and melded the NBA’s City Edition-style jerseys with the Looney Toons aesthetic very well.  

But these redesigns did not stop there. Controversy arose over the hyper-sexualized Lola Bunny, whose design was modified to meet practical sensibilities. Lola — now voice acted by Zendaya — was once portrayed in a crop top jersey and Larry Bird high shorts meant to anthropomorphize the rabbit. However, that version of her that somehow fulfilled the questionable fantasies of ‘90s incels is no more, with her now having more modest clothing. The outraged fanbase took to Twitter to profess how Hollywood ruined their beloved character — deviating from beloved canon material in favor of political correctness and censorship. Whether this actually takes away profits from the box office or not, the fan “tantrum” was no sufficient reason to delay the premiere of the movie like what occurred with the live-action adaptation of Sonic the Hedgehog. No statement has been issued by Lee or Warner Bros. about the decision to move forward with the redesign.

It may be a safer bet to mitigate the discomfort by peeling attention away from a voluptuous, cartoon bunny rabbit, as Warner Bros. is pitching to a much wider audience this time. 

Along with a large number of celebrity appearances, Warner Bros. and their corporate acquisitions are prepared to unload a salad dump of their intellectual property that the older generations recognize (including ”The Iron Giant,” “The Flintstones,” and “Superman”) on a sequel title with the only semblance being a star basketball player and ”Looney Toons.” The lack of originality in this project draws comparisons to many other crossover movies, like Adam Sandler’s 2015 box office flop Pixels or 41% Rotten Tomatoes-rated classic Freddy vs. Jason, that are clearly designed to bait fans of a title into theaters. This movie happens to operate on that strategy on a much larger scale, garnishing the creativity of its plot to spotlight Warner Bros.’ show-and-tell of their media monopoly with the toys they have collected since 1923. In theory, the production company could use this movie solely as a means to gauge out the market for what franchise is due for another remake when fans chit-chat after the film. LeBron’s largest contribution to this movie will be allowing Warner Bros. to profit off of his name. 

Is LeBron’s legacy hurt from his casting in the movie? It certainly is. LeBron’s acting career will always be compared to Jordan’s, especially after signing on to a sequel title to a highly favored classic despite LeBron’s only acting experiences being cameos in other films. There is no question that he will be compared to things that he has no control over. But why are the budget dump and a large number of properties necessary? It could be making up for something highly lacking — a solid script or acting. LeBron deserves an original title separate from Jordan’s; although it is LeBron’s modus operandi to join super teams, it should be no surprise that he would join one of the most powerful media conglomerates in the world. This movie does nothing to cement LeBron’s legacy, but his career transition to Hollywood is already documented and quite promising to feature in main cast roles since his breakout performance in the 2015 comedy Trainwreck.

Alternatively, Kevin Durant would have been a far better candidate to fill the empty shoes Space Jam left behind. It makes far more sense, plotwise, for Durant to join a championship-winning team like the Toon Squad to dominate the Warner Bros. universe, as it suffices an aspect of parallelism where both lead roles feature arguably the two greatest and skilled basketball players in their respective generation. However, there already is some speculation that the snake-like villain could be a hybrid of WNBA star Diana Taurasi and Durant.

Takeaway

So what are the expectations for the film? Are Jordan’s cheesy comedy and unironically terrible acting performance our standards? Is it an Oscar award-winning performance or bust for LeBron? Maybe it’s outdoing Jordan’s iconic Kodak-moment buzzer-beating windmill-tomahawk-360-between-the-legs dunk as the MonStars hang on to his legs. The true answer is to scrap preconceived notions and the ridiculous narrative that LeBron has something to accomplish or prove from the film. It is a light-hearted movie with a sub plotline that stresses the idea of choosing your own destiny rather than the one imposed by family. That might be a subtle middle finger to how the media has treated poor LeBron, who has never intended to surpass Jordan’s basketball career to fulfill a media prophecy to be the greatest but solidifying his own path as an inspirational leader for his community and fans. Enjoy the movie for what it is; it is a fun project to mark the 25th anniversary of “Space Jam.”  

“Space Jam: A New Legacy” will premiere in theatres on July 16, 2021.

Jaidee Maximo Villaflor is a Sports Staff Writer. He can be reached at jaideev@uci.edu