The original Jumanji hasn’t particularly aged very well outside of Robin Williams’s role but the premise alone having been based on Chris Van Allsburg’s book of the same name has always remained an inventive one. In the film’s best moments it feels like an inventive take on the obsession with gaming by juxtaposing said dangers as a reality to really test how prepared its unsuspecting players truly are, but at its worst it also feels relentlessly dark, and these moments only make clear the film’s age more than anything. Now that we have a film taking on the same idea but placing it all in the world of a video game, the least I can really say about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is that I’m already signed up to actually play a video game of this sort.
Four familiar teenager tropes are put into detention, and in the time they spend together they discover a video game called Jumanji and are eventually sucked into the world of Jumanji as they turn into the avatars they have chosen: the nerdy kid turns into Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), the jock turns into Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart), the popular girl turns into Shelly Oberon (Jack Black), and the outcast girl turns into Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). Besides the fact that their video game avatars are completely opposite archetypes compared to who they really are, all four of them must work together in order to escape the realms of Jumanji harnessing all of their newfound skills as their characters.
The first thing that’s there to admire about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is the fact that it truly adheres to the logic of a video game, not limited to the fact that a selected character has their own set of skills and weaknesses, but going down to how NPCs function and the extent to which enemies can interact with the players. This whole film is designed to look just like a video game, which is all the more helpful in getting viewers to come on board with the idea that they are within the universe of one. But as this film adheres to that logic, it feels more in touch with an actual video game than films that happen to be based on actual video games – if the creative premise couldn’t already have found its way into the world of video games.
What is there to be expected of the cast? You already know what to expect of the always charismatic Dwayne Johnson and he sells the role as a “nerdy kid trapped in a man’s body” perfectly well. Kevin Hart as the annoying sidekick is fitting enough, given as I’ve generally found him to be rather annoying yet it fits perfectly to create the best moments he has together with Dwayne Johnson. Jack Black as a teenage girl trapped within the body of an overweight professor is funny to watch, but Karen Gillan as a Lara Croft-esque counterpart for a teenage outcast is the standout atop all. As much as their material still adheres to them being their usual teenage archetypes the material that they have to work with makes all of them fun to watch, but it’s nice to see more directors using Gillan’s talent to the best she can within the action genre.
Unfortunately, not all of it works in its favour. Aside from the fact it has trouble deciding on a tone to take on for its own appeal to come forth (it’s too crude to appeal to children and yet it also panders to them, alienating its adult audience), the plot still plays out like The Breakfast Club set in the jungle. Given my dislike of The Breakfast Club, it doesn’t help that I still find these familiar teenage archetypes uninteresting because even in the video game avatars that contrast them, they still are those teenage archetypes that just literally have to become other people in order to become better people and at the end; it’s not really an idea that’s as progressive as it believes it is. Van Pelt, who was already a weak enough villain in the original Jumanji isn’t any better here, mostly because Bobby Canavale just has very little to do all the way through.
As a piece of light-hearted entertainment, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a nice surprise. It’s a nice surprise because it takes on what we know of the original and gives it a new life with the fact that it actually embraces the feeling of being adventurous within its premise compared to the overly dark and sombre original. But besides the fact that it truly embraces what makes a video game work as they are, it’s clear that the leads are having fun with the material that they have. Though admittedly I can’t get past the fact that “it’s all a video game” can justify the shortcomings present within the actual plot or the villain. Nevertheless, if you’re looking to enter the jungle, Jumanji‘s gate stays open for you.
(random thought, I can’t stand Guns N’ Roses and I think this film would be better off if it didn’t have to play that song because “Welcome to the Jungle” is its subtitle)
Watch the trailer right here.
All images Sony.
Directed by Jake Kasdan
Screenplay by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner, from Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
Produced by Matt Tolmach, William Teitler
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale
Release Year: 2017
Running Time: 119 minutes