“I hate Hollywood”, “screw this movie” and “they have ruined it” are just a cherry pick of comments from social media surrounding Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (or any new movie release for that matter). Initially thought to be a remake of Joe Johnston’s Robin Williams led revered action adventure picture, this is instead a quasi-sequel that seeks its thrills by bringing the audience to the jungle, rather than the jungle to the audience. That sounded a lot more like a line from a parable than this writer intended….
As every new year passes more sequels, reboots and whatnot are announced and people love to bemoan that cinema is worse than ever (a ludicrous claim frankly) and in a year of plentiful shocks, here is another as Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, despite looking like a dumb throwaway, is in fact a really great time at the flicks. The film opens in 1995 as the eponymous washed up board game is found by a passing runner who takes the game home to his indifferent son, that night the game changes…literally, as Jumanji morphs into a video game. Years later in modern day, we meet a mismatched group of high schoolers that stumble across the game while on basement cleaning detention duty and, well, you can guess the rest can’t you? They of course boot it up, choose their characters and find a whole new meaning to VR, as they enter the world of the game, become their avatars and are tasked with saving the world of Jumanji in order to get back to (their) reality.
Tonally and narratively this is mostly a different take on the concept, as Kasdan’s film wisely avoids direct comparison by largely going its own route but with links to the first film and some subtly effective references for fans. True it lacks the original’s poignant heft but the script instead centres on some genuinely amusing beats and presents an entertaining jungle-set actioner that joyously riffs on video gaming. A homage to games culture, this film humorously explores the conventions of video gaming and the action/adventure genre and has a hoot in affectionately mocking them, from the impracticalities of female adventurers skimpy attires, to respawning, to non-playable characters’ limited AI. This is a film sure to delight joystick jostlers and which may well unexpectedly please some fans of the original film and the animated TV series it inspired.
Alex Wolff’s nerdy Spencer, Madison Iseman’s pretty girl Bethany, Ser’darius Blain’s jock Anthony and Morgan Turner’s bookworm Martha are a fine and realistic bunch of high school kid characters, albeit with admittedly familiar personalities but it is their avatar characters that provide the film with its electrifying charisma. Dwayne Johnson is absolutely fantastic as Spencer’s avatar character Dr. Smolder Bravestone, which allows Johnson to brilliantly send up his own image as well as the silhouette of the action star. While Karen Gillan is also brilliant as the ass kicking Ruby Roundhouse (Martha’s avatar), in a role that is akin to Lara Croft and which allows Gillan to mock the gender stereotypes of this kind of character. Then there is a very funny turn by Kevin Hart as Anthony’s binary opposite avatar Franklin Finbar (Hart and Johnson together in a film, after Central Intelligence, is proving to be reliably great formula). But it is a scene stealing Jack Black who, as Bethany’s avatar, has some of the best lines and clearly has enormous fun as Professor Shelby Oberon – literally a woman in a man’s body, which results in some fantastic moments (though a couple are more adult aimed). It is a well-selected crew, with even an effective supporting turn by Nick Jonas. The only real let down is Bobby Cannavale’s bland supernatural baddie, who is not a patch on the original’s sneering hunter Van Pelt and instead feels utterly forgettable and completely ineffective next to the more imposing natural dangers the heroes encounter in their level-based, Nathan Drake-like, rumble in the jungle.
Amidst the cries of “another classic ruined”, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a surprisingly fun romp that wisely seeks its thrills a mostly different way than the original did. It explores the wilder side of the franchise (if we can call it a franchise after just two films?), with some neat nods to the 1995 movie and its much-missed star (there is a particularly classy tribute mid-film), as well as a giddy dissection of video game culture and its tropes. In fact you might say it’s a better video game adaptation than practically all of the actual video game adaptations over the years!
JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: JAKE KASDAN / SCREENPLAY: CHRIS MCKENNA, ERIK SOMMERS, JAKE KASDAN, SCOTT ROSENBERG, JEFF PINKNER / STARRING: DWAYNE JOHNSON, KAREN GILLAN, JACK BLACK, KEVIN HART, NICK JONAS, BOBBY CANNAVALE, ALEX WOLFF, MADISON ISEMAN, SER’DARIUS BLAIN, MORGAN TURNER / RELEASE DATE: 20TH DECEMBER
Expected Rating: 4/10