“Been there, done that,” shrugs Space Jam: A New Legacy's Lola Bunny (voiced by Zendaya) when NBA superstar LeBron James asks her to join the Tune Squad of ballplayers he needs to assemble for a high-stakes battle of the baskets.
It’s a reaction that sums up the biggest hoop Malcolm D. Lee’s movie has to jump through, namely: why bother remaking Space Jam when the 1996 original delivered everything one could possibly want from a manic mash-up of sporting idolatry and Looney Tunes mayhem?
A lot has changed in the intervening 25 years. Michael Jordan has hung up his Air Jordans, while distributor Warner Bros has become a mighty multimedia conglomerate that extends far beyond Bugs Buggy and his fellow cartoon anthropomorphs. Harry Potter, The Matrix and Game Of Thrones are now components of the Warner empire, along with King Kong, Mad Max and the DCEU. And they’re all a part of A New Legacy as well: less a sequel or reboot in truth than a huge and somewhat cynical advertisement for the studio’s phalanx of intellectual properties.
The original Space Jam saw Jordan pulled into a golf hole to save Bugs and his chums from extraterrestrial servitude. The upgraded reprise sees James digitised by a malevolent AI (Don Cheadle), who pits him against LeBron’s own tech-savvy son in a “Warner 3000 server-verse” he controls.
Fail to beat Dom (Cedric Joe) in a 3D version of his DomBall videogame and LeBron can never return to his wife Kamiyah (Sonequa Martin-Green), kids and private court (complete with voice-activated ball delivery). The Tunes, meanwhile, will be summarily deleted – a fate even worse than the CG makeover they are obliged to endure in the latter stages of the picture.
Kids in need of diversion might be amused by seeing Porky Pig compete in an 8 Mile-style rap duel, or by Lola taking on a Themysciran challenge with Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson, who’s voiced the character in other DC ani-movies) in attendance.
Yet even they will likely be bewildered by the film’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, one that ultimately finds Bill And Ted’s Death, Pennywise from It and Joe Dante’s Gremlins thrown into the mix for no other reason than to swell the climax’s fantasy crowd of spectators. “I can survive anything!” cackles Bugs at one point. Maybe, but Legacy doesn’t exactly herald a new lease of life for the franchise.