Let’s get this out of the way: Space Jam 2 is a mess. It is an unnecessary, repetitive and cynical sequel to an already – let’s be honest – not very good film. It is lessened by a limp performance from LeBron James (though he’s arguably less bad than Michael Jordan in the first); an incredibly dull first thirty minutes and overwhelming doses of nonsense. However, in spite of all rational critique, it is also – and I barely know how – actually rather fun. Admittedly, the bad far outweighs the good (and the good is limited to small sections), but this ends up as enjoyably bad rather than flat-out bad.
Again, primarily, the film is a mess. We begin with a lot of manufactured family drama, unconvincingly portrayed, and this becomes the bedrock for the film’s attempted emotional arc. It turns out LeBron is a bad father, pushing his son who wants to make video games into the serious pursuit of basketball. The lack of support and emotional connection with his child is so mechanical, and so obviously in service of a later redemptive arc, that it is hard to pay it any mind. Watching the first thirty minutes is, realistically, just watching a lot of dominoes be put into place so that they can be knocked down later. It is a dull enterprise and unappealing viewing.
There is one bright light here, one saving grace: Don Cheadle. His role is poorly written and the associated narrative is bad but Cheadle gives it his all. It is a wonderfully hammy performance that channels his natural charisma, making his every moment on screen a bit of a delight. Cheadle is the film’s villain, he plays an algorithm, called Al-G Rhythm (…yup). He has full control of all of Warner Bros. assets, which are displayed like a Matrix-esque cyberspace. He lives inside a mainframe in which, in Tron fashion, you could meet all of the characters that make up your favourite Warner Bros. properties. Due to necessary contrivances, LeBron James is kidnapped into this virtual reality and is forced to play a basketball game with only Looney Tunes on his team. Because it is a Space Jam movie.
To get to this state, the filmmakers decided this film needed a whistle-stop tour of Warner Bros. properties, which is just bizarre. We now get Looney Tunes and LeBron James making their way through such family favourites as… Mad Max: Fury Road, Austin Powers and Casablanca? I would hate to be the parent having to explain who that man was in the Austin Powers section, and what his whole deal is, to a confused child. Of course, this will all mean nothing to children. It is all just visual noise, which is the film’s modus operandi. The aim here is to overwhelm the viewer with stuff, to fill up a whole IMDB trivia page and to inspire YouTube videos that will isolate all of the references. It is cynical, needless and… I’ll be honest, basely entertaining. It is so over the top, so overt, that it becomes a little bit charming. Towards the end, it is just Warner Bros. overload, functioning as a Where’s Wally (or Waldo) image more than a film. Why it almost works is that it has the feel of a cosplay convention. There is no attempt to actually emulate the people being shown. You have the nuns from The Devils (a film Warner Bros. have actively tried to supress since releasing it, and quite simply one of the greatest films ever made) dancing along (a la TikTok) with Droogs, White Walkers, the Scooby Gang and a fake Danny DeVito’s Penguin (and a lot more). Nobody is trying to be their character, it is all aesthetic.
This is filmmaking as a screensaver, and it is not good, but there is a raucous fun to it. These spaces would be filled with generic crowd members so seeing Pennywise the clown dance alongside King Kong and the Iron Giant is just stupid enough to evoke a titter. The actual basketball game is just a sequence of logic-less escalations, some of which are quite funny, and this all gives the sense that anything can happen. The whole film has the feel of complete irresponsibility. None of it should be here and none of it should at all work. And, realistically, it does not work. But it also kind of does. It just goes for complete madness and it is quite hard to tear your eyes away from it. It is not imaginative in the creative sense, it actually feels creatively bankrupt, but it is imaginative in the unpredictable sense. It is all rather nonsensical and you kind of want to watch this flashing, neon car crash as it careens through the cinema.
Is Space Jam 2 a good movie? No. It is a bad film. It tries to push a conventional father son narrative that is underwritten and clichéd; it is full of pointless digressions and, visually, it is very unappealing. The 2D art used for the Looney Tunes is so disappointing. Their traditional style swapped for something ugly, though things do improve when they become 3D later (it is not good, but it is better). The film also bungles some potential positives. It is cool that female athletes are prioritised this time, featured as part of the other team. But, while the first film actually went out of its way to be about the athletes – and also about the monsters they turn into – this is only about the monsters. It feels disappointingly tokenistic and is another reminder that the film lacks any focus at all. At points, it does need to slow down and concentrate on something, that concentration would enrich the experience and what we are left with is a sugary overload. This is the filmic equivalent of the biggest, most expensive and sickliest treat you can buy at the cinema’s concession stand. Eating it is a mistake, an overwhelming experience even when it is somewhat positive. At the end, you will feel it was not worth it but you can’t deny that you did enjoy some of the middle. A mistake? Definitely. But also an experience.