Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

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The “reboot/sequel/re-imagining” of the 1990s Jumanji really only has minimal connections to that film.  This is a new version and, to be honest, I liked it a lot more than I did the first one.

Although I loved Robin Williams (still do by the way), I was never a big fan of the first Jumanji movie.  I mean, it was okay, but I wanted more from it.  So I was not overly excited for a “reboot/sequel/re-imagining” of the franchise…even with the Rock in it.

Still, the trailers looked entertaining and word of mouth was good, so I went into Welcome to the Jungle with reasonable expectations.  And I was entertained.

Instead of Jumanji being a board game that frees dangerous rampaging creatures into our world, the game has adapted itself into a video game format and, instead, pulls the players into the world of Jumanji.

So when four high school students in detention find themselves with the option of playing this video game, they take up the controllers and wind up in the jungles of Jumanji.  Each student found themselves inside an avatar of the character that they chose to play.

The initial set up to this movie is a bit slow, but, as a teacher in middle school, I recognized these types of students.  Once they arrive in the jungle, and we have Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan appear on screen, the movie truly takes off.

Johnson played nerd/video game expert Spencer, a geeky boy who was scared of pretty much everything.  Hart played Fridge, a large football player struggling to get through school.  Gillian was the wallflower Martha, who was shy and withdrawn.  Finally, Jack Black played Bethany, a snotty, blonde Instagram using teen mean girl.  So each avatar is very much playing against the type of the character that had chose them, and this is where most of the comedy for the movie comes from.

And this is extremely funny.  I would say, especially with Dwayne Johnson and Jack Black.  These two actors really got into the contradictions of their characters.  Jack Black especially was just brilliant as the teenage girl who has lost her phone.   There are so many subtitles to Jack Black’s performance that it makes it all the better.  He is a total riot (including the discovery of the penis).

Kevin Hart is basically Kevin Hart.  He is using his same shtick that he uses in most of his films.  However, he does seem to be able to create something more here, perhaps because of his chemistry with The Rock and the others in the cast.  I would have liked Hart to have tried something more than just being Kevin Hart.

Karen Gillan has a lovely relationship with Dwayne Johnson’s character and these two are amazing playing two awkward kids trying to find their way to one another.  Just the thought of these two beautiful people having any insecurities at all really is a funny concept.  Funny and real.

The action in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is good, especially with the helicopter scene.  I also loved how the film played with the idea that they were in a video game.  Characters had skills, talents, weaknesses that they could access, limited number of lives, and there was music cues when important things were going to happen.  There were NPC (non-player characters) who were there only to deliver scripted lines and they would repeat those even if a character asked them a specific question.  This was very clever.

Yes, the film also has Bobby Cannavale playing a character named Van Pelt, who is the villain of the movie and does have some creepiness involving insects, but has zero motives, zero personality or zero charm.  However, he does seem to be able to do more than just speak previously scripted dialogue like all the other members of Jumanji.  That fact is never dealt with and it could be seen as a plot hole.  Van Pelt is really no more than the “Big Bad” at the end of the video game and is the one that the heroes have to defeat.  His inclusion does seem to be a weakness of the movie and a waste of the skills of Cannavale.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle feels like a throwback to those films from the 1980s that are action/adventure with slight stories that were just fun.  This is not going to be a deep, thought provoking film dealing with issues.  Instead, it is a fun time with some great comedic performances and some good action tossed in.

I had a lot of fun with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

4.1 stars



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