I am going to spoil the end of Space Jam: A New Legacy. I’m very sorry. Space Jam, as a franchise, is known for its intricate plotting that heavily foreshadows carefully constructed climaxes, as the Jungian archetype that each Looney Tunes character represents plays off the more Freudian psychology of the NBA players they’re juxtaposed against for a finish that is both satisfying and thematically rich. It’s also a movie for children, and must therefore conclude with an ending that speaks to the child in all of us: by being pleasant and also entirely predictable.
So of course, Space Jam: A New Legacy kills Bugs Bunny.
In the end, video games do the wily hare in. Unlike in the original film, the climactic sports showdown in Space Jam: A New Legacy isn’t really a basketball game. Instead, LeBron James and the Tune Squad are facing off against the Goon Squad in Dom Ball, a video game made by LeBron’s son, Dom. Dom calls it “basketball, but better,” which (1) offends LeBron deeply, and (2) is kind of true. There are no power-ups in the NBA (just cool sneakers), and while I think basketball is already pretty sweet, it might be even better if, like Dom Ball, it had a bit of Mario Kart thrown in there.
Other than the vague notion of video game-style power-ups, there are no clear rules to Dom Ball — but not in a fun way. More in a confusing, how-do-we-know-who’s-going-to-win? way. (The best and worst moment of this is when a thousand-point deficit is closed with a pretty great Wile E. Coyote gag involving a ball-multiplier machine that comes out of nowhere simply because it’s time for the game to end.) The only thing that is clear is that, since the game is taking place in the Warner Bros. ServerVerse controlled by the sentient algorithm Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle), the entire game is dictated by his whims. Thus, it’s impossible to actually beat Al-G, because he can always cheat.
There is, however, a flaw in Dom Ball: Dom, wanting to pay tribute to his star father, put a signature move that LeBron taught him into the game. Dom wasn’t able to finish, though, so doing the move causes Dom Ball to glitch out and the character who performed it to be deleted forever. In the climax of A New Legacy, Dom thinks this might be true of Al-G’s version of Dom Ball too, and that reproducing the glitch will cause Al-G to lose control — at the expense of one player being deleted forever.
LeBron wants to be the one to sacrifice himself, but just before he’s about to catch the ball, Bugs intercepts it and performs The Move instead. And the gambit works! The Toons win, the day is saved, and Bugs is mourned on Toon World as he seems to ascend to the heavens in what’s maybe the most bizarre scene in a thoroughly bizarre movie.
Space Jam: A New Legacy plays this whole thing with deadly seriousness, too! There’s no wink at the camera, no gag undercutting the moment. It’s a Bugs Bunny death scene, full stop. Of course, a few minutes later, we find out that Bugs Bunny is now in the real world visiting LeBron, which, if they are like me, will send viewers on an existential spiral.
Do Toons go to the real world when they die? If so, is our world heaven or hell? Bugs later tells LeBron that he’s not alone, and other Toons came with him. Does that mean they also had to die? How did that happen, given that their whole schtick is surviving things that kill them, like several metric tons of dynamite? Are the Looney Tunes now a death cult? Or is that really Bugs Bunny at the end of the film? Maybe he’s a Cylon? Or a Cylon equivalent based on whatever Warner Bros. franchise is closest to Battlestar Galactica? Maybe video games are bad because they killed Bugs Bunny?
This last question is perhaps the most fascinating moral quandary Space Jam: A New Legacy presents audiences with, a clash between the id of gaming and the ego of the scheming rabbit, suggesting, on the very terrace of something called the “E3 Summer Game Camp” that the latter will always subsume the former, and that this Werner Herzog impression I’ve half-committed to illustrates how unmooring it is to watch a movie that works very hard to render everything it depicts utterly meaningless.
Of course, the Space Jam franchise can redeem itself in a sequel that I know better than to dread. No, another Space Jam would be an opportunity, a movie that could really take on the Big Questions suggested here, one that lays aside the cowardice and gives us, once and for all, a showdown between the Looney Tunes and the King of Gaming: Gerard Butler, star of Gamer. And this time, the bunny stays dead.