Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle (2017)
Directed by: Jake Kasdan
Written by: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Rhys Darby, Bobby Cannavale, Alex Wolf, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner
As a 90s kid, I have a fondness for the original Jumanji. It was Robin Williams at the height of his powers and even though it was still in its infancy Jumanji was a bit of a CGI wonder as the jungle invaded a small town. So you can image my disappointment when I first heard they were doing a sequel to Jumanji, except this time its stars The Rock, and takes place in a video game, a formula that still sounds like a pitch made every day at every movie studio. But admittedly this latest incarnation of a beloved 90s classic welcomes you to the jungle in the best way possible.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’s story is pretty simple and nothing we haven’t seen before, in fact, it uses almost every familiar character trope ever created but luckily you’re laughing and falling in love with the cast too much to really care. It opens in typical reluctant buddy adventure fashion, 4 kids; the nerd, the jock, the Instagram girl (formerly the cheerleader), and the quiet girl, all get stuck in detention together and have to clean out an old basement. As they rummage through the junk, they happen upon a video gaming system with a cartridge in it called, you guessed it, Jumanji. Of course, they immediately plug in the game and jump right in selecting characters. It’s at this point the system appears to come alive and suck them into the game.
As they arrive in the game they quickly realize they have become the avatars of which they selected at the start screen. Spencer, the geek, is now our strapping and handsome hero Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), the Jock, Fridge, is now zoologist and man who fears cake, Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart), our hot Instagram girl, Bethany, becomes the portly but intelligent Professor Shelly Oberon, and the reluctant and shy, Martha becomes, the uber bad ass Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). The majority of the film’s humor comes from our teenage characters, learning and coming to terms with their roles in this game and their new bodies. One of Jumanji’s most fun moments is our characters having to take a pee, and Bethany, who is in the body of a man experiencing that for the first time. It was the longest and hardest the audience and myself laughed the whole movie and is a perfect example of why Jack Black’s performance as a self-centered teenage girl is probably his best since Tropic Thunder.
Now that they have become acquainted with their new personas its time to actually play the game. Welcome to the Jungle, handles the video game aspects of this story extremely well, and I dare to say even though this isn’t technically a movie based off a video game, it is the best “video game” movie we have gotten to date. For those unfamiliar with the gaming world, it explains the rules and tentpoles of gaming extremely well and then proceeds to implement them in an often dramatic and impactful way. Our heroes have 3 lives, to conquer the various levels of the game and reach the end at which time they must, put a magic stone back in its alter and shout the words Jumanji. If their 3 lives run out they are gone for good, and to make matters more difficult they are being hunted by Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) who has been corrupted by the stone an given dominion over all of Jumanji’s creatures. Van Pelt does make for an interesting villain the few time we see him, but unfortunately, he is merely a plot device to add some challenge for our heroes and not much else. Despite some minor plot holes and a pretty paint by numbers story, gamers and non-gamers alike will enjoy this movie as it plays out very much like a video game but it’s not so overbearing or inside that, you feel left out if you didn’t grow up with a controller in your hands.
But it’s not the gaming aspect that sells this movie, or even the action, set pieces or callbacks to the original, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle succeeds because the cast is so damn fun to watch. Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson have never been better together, the chemistry is undeniable and almost every interaction warrants a laugh. Karen Gillan finally gets to shine here as well, and even though I love her as Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy, I feel like in Jumanji she finally gets the screen time to prove she can do both comedy and action with ease. The stand out for me though was Jack Black’s portrayal of Bethany, every time he opened his mouth you were smiling before he got the line out and this twist on the fish out of water scenario was perfectly cast.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle walks a familiar trail many action comedies have walked before. It does its best to emulate the original while also updating the franchise for a new generation. Of course, don’t expect any high art here, or some groundbreaking take on a classic, a lot of what you see in Jumanji, you’ve seen before, but not from a cast this charming and funny. Jumanji is worth the trip just on the cast and chemistry alone, you’ll be hard-pressed to find funnier performances by any of these individuals as each of them seems to work best in an ensemble. Like the original Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a fun, action-packed, adventure, the whole family can enjoy.