Dir. Jake Kasdan
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Rhys Darby
Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle is a sequel 22 years in the making. How you feel about the original Jumanji probably depends on how old you were when you first saw it. As someone who grew up in the 90’s, Jumanji was one of my favourite action adventure movies. A great child friendly romp, with a fantastic performance from Robin Williams at the centre. This sequel from director Jake Kasdan, best know for his work on TV and 2014’s Sex Tape, also acts as reboot for a new generation. Kids don’t want to play board games any more so the game morphs itself into a 90’s action adventure video game. Welcome To The Jungle trades the game coming alive elements of the original for a more Tron like dynamic to mixed results.
In Jumanji, Robin Williams is sucked into the game as a boy, and when two children start to play the game years later, he appears out of it as an adult, having been stuck in the game all those years. Where was he for all those years? Welcome To The Jungle aims to answer that question. The film centres around four main characters/stereotypes. There’s nerdy, video game playing Spencer, football playing jock Fridge, self-obsessed, mobile fanatic hot girl Bethany, and shy Martha. The four of them find themselves in detention together where they stumble across an old video game called Jumanji. When they start to play they are sucked into the video game, where they appear as the avatars they selected to play as. Spencer is now Dwayne Johnson’s Dr. Smolder Braveheart, Fridge is Kevin Hart’s Moose Finbar, Bethany is Jack Black’s Professor Shelly Oberon, and Martha is now Karen Gillian’s scantily clad Ruby Roundhouse. They are now trapped in a generic action adventure game, think 90’s version of Uncharted, which they have to complete in order to get home. Along the way discovering who they really are in some Breakfast Club-lite bonding.
There’s a lot wrong with Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, so I’ll start with what I liked about the film. The comedy centres around defying the expectations of what audiences expect from the cast. Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson have starred in a lot of comedies together, and here the switch is flipped slightly. Johnson is a nerd trapped in a action hero’s body, and Hart is a jock who is missing his height and muscles. It’s fun to see Johnson turn around and tell himself not to cry, or Hart berating Johnson only to find out Johnson is incredibly strong. This vein of comedy is mined throughout the film, and Jack Black has a ball with it. Channelling a teenage girl, he all but steals the show. Karen Gillan fares less well, but mainly because she is less known, and so the audience aren’t carrying any baggage of expectation for her to play off against. A lot was made of her costume when the first pictures appeared online. The film makers said that their was a good reason for that, and for the most part I buy it, it works for the story. Kasdan also does well balancing the action and comedy, with the film moving along at a breezy pace.
The faults of this movie though soon outweigh the positives. The video game nature of the movie becoming its biggest crux. The plot is set out like levels of a game, incredibly episodic, but this soon just feels like background to tell some jokes, and the jokes are fine, although it really is just the same joke again and again. The characters are also given three lives each, which removes the film of any tension or real stakes. The original Jumanji felt like it had huge stakes. The game coming to life destroyed their home, and started to destroy their hometown. The dangers of the Jungle felt real, with Robin Williams look of dread at each role of the dice really brining it home. Here the dangers are either easily fought off, or death scenes are played for laughs. The first film was also about bravery. Having the courage to play the game, and role the dice. Here no bravery is needed as the characters are already imbued with the qualities they need to pass each test. Even as the film preaches a message of working together as a team, it seems to be a solution they stumble upon rather than really take to heart.
The plot of the film is incredibly predictable. It’s the same storyline as any middling, generic, 90’s action adventure video game. The action scenes are uninspired. The less said about villain Bobby Cannavale the better, with his scenes at best inconsequential, and at worst laughable. They also try to tie the film in with the original, in a really ham fisted way which doesn’t make any logical sense. It can also feel very contrived. When Spencer is playing video games at the beginning of the film, I was annoyed by the fact that he kept saying the moves he was using out loud to himself, something no one in real life does. This is just so that when Dwayne Johnson says all his thoughts out loud it makes sense.
I didn’t hate the movie by any stretch. It’s not very good, but it is fun. It’s a big, dumb, action comedy, with some big laughs. It does exactly what it says on the tin, and is sure to be a crowd pleaser, although I’m not sure fans of the original are going to love it as much as they loved the first. In a way it feels like an original screenplay which has been molded into a Jumanji sequel. It starts off well but soon runs out of steam, and the jokes become stale.