The Oberlin Review

Cool or Drool: Space Jam II

Dan Bisno, Columnist

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Film sequels are often met with criticism, because how can the sequel be any better than the original? Critics call rare, improved sequels such as The Godfather: Part II or The Dark Knight anomalies. Despite the knowledge that a Space Jam sequel can almost certainly not hold up to the original, it has been one of the most anticipated sports films of the last two decades.

For those of you who forgot about Space Jam, it is a 1996 film starring basketball legend Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes characters. Jordan saves the characters from being kidnapped by aliens who want to hold them captive at an amusement park on the aliens’ home planet. Over the years, Space Jam has become an icon of sports entertainment, immortalizing other stars like Shawn Bradley, Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bogues, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing.

The conversation surrounding a Space Jam sequel has been underway for a long time now. During Kobe Bryant’s NBA reign, he was expected to take on Jordan’s role in a 2000s version. After denying rumors for years, Bryant has since retired, while a new player worthy of the role has expressed interest in bringing back the Looney Tunes-basketball extravaganza — LeBron James.

Reports began to surface this past week that James will, in fact, star in a Space Jam sequel written by Andrew Dodge and Fast & Furious’ Justin Lin. Warner Brothers is also reportedly in negotiations with Lin to direct the film. Perhaps a Fast & Furious edge is exactly what a Space Jam sequel would need to compete with its predecessor.

James is no stranger to acting. He was recently featured in Trainwreck alongside Amy Schumer and Bill Hader. Seeing James outside of the basketball arena for the first time was awkward but enjoyable. His acting skills can’t match those of a veteran performer, but he certainly has some chops. Unfortunately, he has yet to comment on the reports regarding his involvement. This is, of course, a dreadful byproduct of “Zero Dark Thirty,” which is what he calls his personal media blackout during playoffs.

Is it May already? James and his Cleveland Cavaliers are currently in the second round of playoffs in the eastern conference, which means James is unavailable for anything more than another run at a third championship. This year, however, he was indecisive, saying, “If I’m on social media, if I’m off social media, I’m going to be locked in anyway, so I’m not worried about that.” But sure enough, on April 16, one night before the first round of the Cavs’ playoff run, James posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram saying, “Zero Dark Thirty-#23 activated #StriveForGreatness,” along with a pitch-black photo. He has remained silent since then.

Despite the 20-year wait for a Space Jam sequel, fans may have to wait a little over a month to hear James’ thoughts on the new film. However, another lesser-known attempt at reviving a beloved basketball film may ultimately parallel this story. In 2002, 20th Century Fox released Like Mike, a film featuring an adolescent Lil’ Bow Wow stealing the basketball powers of Michael Jordan using Jordan’s shoes. The film has earned a massive cult following, achieving a commendable 57 percent on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer and bringing in $51 million in domestic box office grosses.

While not a literal sequel, the story of Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant in Warner Brothers’ 2012 Thunderstruck follows a strikingly similar narrative. In Thunderstruck, a high school basketball player borrows Durant’s basketball powers, rendering Durant unable to compete at the NBA level until his powers are returned. Unlike Like Mike, Thunderstruck earned a meager 20 percent on the Tomatometer and less than $600,000 in domestic box office grosses.

While the films were not marketed on the same scale, Like Mike is the clear favorite. Perhaps Thunderstruck couldn’t compete because of Durant’s lack of on-court success — unlike Jordan and James — or his somewhat monotonous voice. More likely, however, fans were unwilling to fall for a less enjoyable copy of the original, especially a decade after the hype surrounding Like Mike’s release.

The same concerns apply to the Space Jam sequel. James is extremely marketable, but has any athlete ever been as marketable as Michael Jordan? The only billionaire athlete ever essentially made his fortune marketing himself through his shoes. Warner Brothers is expected to include a number of other basketball stars seen in the original Space Jam. If this film were to compete with its popular predecessor, it would be best to include current players with Jordan’s popularity, like Russell Westbrook or Blake Griffin, in order to maintain its flare.

Ultimately, very little is known about this project. Warner Brothers seems committed to reviving the basketball classic, but how and when are still ambiguous. As much fun as it may be to see the 6-foot-8-inch James hanging out with Bugs Bunny, it is hard to imagine an improved Space Jam. This will more than likely be a fantastic marketing opportunity, while the film itself will be decent at best. For the moment, this project is a DROOL, but we look forward to seeing fans in their LeBron James Tune Squad jerseys soon. Does the NBA get to advertise on those, too?

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