Published on December 20th, 2017 | by Dan Nicholls0
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, a reboot of the classic Robin Williams film, is a sometimes enjoyable family movie, though it’s ultimately a forgettable enterprise.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has the star power and millennial-friendly franchise familiarity to grab your attention but not quite enough juice in the tank to serve as a timeless landmark for any generation. This follow-up to the 1995 original (as well as an animated kids’ series and a spin-off, 2005’s Zathura) takes its lame subtitle and makes it apropos: it’s about as momentarily fun and long term forgettable as the Guns n’ Roses song itself. The difference is you’re not going to have this film shoved down your throat hundreds of times over the course of your life.
Four high school students who on the surface couldn’t be more different from each other are introduced and quickly united by a shared session of detention. Awkward nerd Spencer (Alex Wolff), football star Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), self-conscious Martha (Morgan Turner), and vain Bethany (Madison Iseman) may have nothing in common with each other except for the fact that they all find themselves in the same spot on the same day. The group is sent to the dungeons for mindless and boring chores. It isn’t long before they discover an ancient (read: 20 years old) gaming system possessing a single cartridge; the surprisingly clever conceit is that the old board game that trapped Alan Parrish all those years ago is now in a marginally updated video game form. The quadruplet selects their players and before they can press the ‘start’ button they’re sucked directly into the world of Jumanji itself.
But once they land in the jungles of they’ve been transformed into the bodies of their in-game avatars. Spencer is now Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Fridge is Bravestone’s sidekick Mouse (Kevin Hart), Martha becomes ass-kicking Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), and poor Bethany is transplanted into the portly guise of Professor Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black). They each have their own specialties and each is marked with three bars representing the three ‘lives’ they possess. For anyone who has ever gripped a joystick before, the world of the game is easy to grasp on to. They can’t win the game alone so they have to accept each other’s unique personalities and work together as a team in order to return an emerald jewel to the eye of a stone jaguar before they’re wiped out by the villainous John van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale).
Despite a PG-13 rating and some jokes of questionable taste and suitability for younger audiences, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle should definitely be classified as a kids’ movie. The moral of the story, while strong and important for any human being to grasp, is also broadly on-the-nose. The danger the group faces is also less severe than the hazards thrown at the characters in the first Jumanji.
This movie isn’t a remake and it isn’t a sequel. It’s more of a modern twist on an old tale with some touching nods tossed in out of respect for the late, great Robin Williams. So, it’s unlikely that older audiences looking for a nostalgia fix are going to find what they seek within Welcome to the Jungle.
The real fun of the film comes from our game and committed leading stars who perfectly capture the personalities of their teenage counterparts. Jack Black in particular excels here, taking what could’ve been a one note gag and wringing real laughs while mining some actual emotional depth. His Instagram addicted, shallow Bethany-as-Sheldon steals every moment.
As they proved in last summer’s hit Central Intelligence, Johnson and Hart have wonderful chemistry and could’ve easily sleepwalked through the proceedings. Yet they both give it their all, knowing when to mug it up and when to sit back and let their costars – and in a lot of cases, the visual effects – grab the spotlight.
Perhaps the biggest surprise comes from Karen Gillan, who boldly goes toe-to-toe with three major stars and walks away on equal footing. She’s a blast every step of the way and makes her version of Martha convincingly inexperienced and socially anxious despite her beauty and skimpy costume. She isn’t afraid to ham it up for some gags either and it’s a delight to see her come up from under the heavy makeup of her best-known big screen persona, Nebula from the Guardians of the Galaxy series.
We’ve got solid performances, a unique premise, and a genuine connection to each of these characters. And yet Welcome to the Jungle never quite fully gets its hook into you. It’s arguably more fun than not but some of the script’s strained dialogue and lackluster suspense severely holds the picture back from taking off and becoming an unadulterated joyous triumph.
Director Jake Kasdan has never tackled a film with such big scope before – he’s mostly known for directing comedies like the underrated 2002 classic Orange County (also starring Jack Black) and the TV show New Girl. His talented team of technicians props up his usual sensibilities nicely, creating a fair balance of CGI spectacle and smaller character moments. The finished product is far from essential viewing, but it’s at least competent enough to keep the critical voice in your head from derailing any chance of a good time being had (mostly).
Younger audience members aren’t going to care one bit about the issues their parents take up with the flick. Most kids are going to be happy seeing Kevin Hart run away screaming from a pack of VFX rhinos. If that’s the bar for success, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle just might snatch enough family eyes from showings of Star Wars: The Last Jedi to become a holiday season hit. This one’s bound to fade from the public consciousness before long, but it gives you just enough bang for your buck to justify the safari.