Bro-Reviews: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Slightly better than the Guns ‘N Roses song.

It may be hard to believe, but the origin of Jumanji isn’t the 1995 Robin Williams film or the board game. “Jumanji” started off as 1981 children’s book written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. Over a decade later, it somehow got turned into a board game and then a Robin Williams vehicle, which was actually much darker and scarier than we remembered. Jumanji never saw a sequel, until Sony decided to capitalize on 90s nostalgia and announced they were rebooting the film for the sole reason that its name alone is still a recognizable property. Sony upped the ante however, by casting A-list stars in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kevin Hart, and Jack Black, and led many to believe reviving this property would be a worthwhile venture.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle starts off in 1996, where a father discovers a board game titled “Jumanji” and brings it home to his son, where it mysteriously turns into a video game and the son disappears soon after. Flash forward to the present day, where a cowardly nerd (Alex Wolf), a jock struggling with grades (Ser’Darius Blain), a smartphone dependent beauty (Madison Iseman), and a shy outsider (Morgan Turner) all find themselves in after school detention. It is there they discover the Jumanji video game, and are sucked into it as their polar opposite personality: a masculine hero (Dwayne Johnson), a short statured sidekick (Kevin Hart), a middle-aged fat man (Jack Black), and a butt kicking bombshell (Karen Gillian) respectively. In order to escape, they must complete the game, or risk being trapped in it forever.

While I recall memories of flipping through the children’s book when I was young, the 1995 Robin Williams film never stuck with me. So as a person who doesn’t have a strong affinity for the original film, I didn’t really care what they did with this unnecessary re-boot/ re-imagining. The set-up we have here is very Breakfast Club-esque, which at first comes off as contrived. It doesn’t help that the stereotypes for each real-world character are so over the top, with the nerd being overtly wimpy, the jock being a black teen who will get kicked off the football team if his grades don’t improve, the phone dependent popular girl being a vapid blonde, and the somehow unpopular but cute outsider being the one who challenges authority but then reverts back to being timid. Even though this set-up doesn’t last very long, you can’t wait to ditch the losers club finally get to our destination of the jungle with the A-list cast.

Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, and Dwayne Johnson in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.”

Once we get to the jungle, it’s a welcome change of pace, as each of the stereotyped teens interacting with each other in their new avatars is a delight. Obviously his storied career in comedy helps, but Jack Black comes across best as a middle aged obese man with the mannerisms of a ditzy social media obsessed teenage girl. Every time he comes on screen he’s a riot, and it’s nice to see Jack Black back after a long period of taking more serious roles and unfunny star vehicles (*cough* Gulliver’s Travels *cough*). Kevin Hart remains as screechy as ever, but his shtick still works well here and continues to be the go-to man in comedy. Even Nick Jonas shows off his chops in the film, and proves there’s life after the Jonas Brothers and his solo music career.

Not all the characters come across as memorable, however. It’s nice to finally see Karen Gillan without her blue makeup on when she’s Nebula in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but she doesn’t really resonate much other than her butt-kicking action sequences. Even Dwayne Johnson, arguably the biggest movie star on the planet, is fairly unremarkable in the film. Sure, it’s funny the first couple of times the hulking man acts insecure and sheepish, but in his attempt to become the next Arnold Schwarzenegger, somewhere along the way of filming this film he left his charisma at home. Even more forgettable than them is the villain, played by a drugged-out looking Bobby Cannavale. I’d attribute his lackluster villainous role to the fact that most video games’ main villains are fairly monotonous but that would be giving the filmmakers too much credit.

Even the big budget action sequences are meant to be ridiculous and thrilling much like a video game, but they never reach a level happening enough to classify them as entertaining. If anything, they’re just silly. The main highlight of the film other than Black and Hart is the character’s realizations that they can be the avatars they are in the game in their everyday lives as well. There’s something sweet and genuine about this realization that shows the film has some heart, and is a good lesson for young kids and teenagers out there who may be afraid to break out of their comfort zones. In that regard, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle proves there was something to be gained by re-booting/ re-imagining the otherwise bland Robin Williams 1995 version.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle may be on the whole an unwarranted project, but there have been more egregious re-boots/ re-makes. When the film focuses on Black and Hart doing that thing they do and shows its heart by telling audiences you can be the hero you play in your video game in real life, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle proves itself as a manageable journey. It’s biggest star and blockbuster thrills, however, leave much to be desired. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle may be able to prey on and revitalize 90s nostalgia for some, but for others, it’s an expedition into the jungle you can do without.

Rating: 2/4 Stars. Rent it.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle stars Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Bobby Cannavale, Rhys Darby, Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Ser’Darius Blain, Morgan Turner, Missi Pyle, and Colin Hanks. It is in theaters December 20th.

 

 

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Bro-Reviews: The Fate of the Furious

Remember when these movies took place on planet earth?

Flashback to June of 2001. You just walked out of a theater watching The Fast and The Furious. Then, out of nowhere, a large time portal opens up. A man with iPad comes up to you and says, “This is the future of the Fast and the Furious.” On the iPad is footage from the eighth (*yes, eighth*) Fast and Furious movie, entitled The Fate of the Furious. In this footage, you see cars falling out of buildings in New York City, that WWF guy the Rock, and a submarine attacking cars. You surely would’ve looked at that man holding an iPad and said “Yeah right!” But here we are, 16 years later, and The Fate of the Furious has pulled into theaters promising more of the adrenaline fueled action we have come to identify the series by.

The film opens in Havana, Cuba, where Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty Ortiz/ Toretto (Michelle Rodriguez) are enjoying their honeymoon. After sticking up for his cousin by partaking in a race, Dom is approached the next morning by a mysterious woman called Cipher (Charlize Theron). She reveals she has something on Dom that is near and dear to him, and blackmails him to join forces with her and her cyber terrorist group. After partaking in a mission with his crew and government partner Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) to obtain a nuclear device, Dom turns on his family, setting the stage for the latest installment of the Fast franchise.

Let me be upfront, I am unapologetically a fan of this series (except for Tokyo Drift). I am typically the first person in line to see these over-the-top, male oriented soap opera films. But within the first five minutes of this movie, I felt a feeling I never had before: I wasn’t going to like it. The opening credits reminded more of an episode of the 1980s TV show Miami Vice more than it did a Fast and Furious movie. The set up to the first and only race in the film is so awful, and I especially rolled my eyes at a Cuban gangster’s delivery of what the people of Havana called the race they were about to partake in, “The Cuban Mile.” But during the well filmed, exciting race, a blink and you’ll miss it tribute to the late Paul Walker occurs, and reminds us that you are in fact watching a Fast and Furious movie.

The movie really doesn’t start until Charlize Theron shows up ten/ fifteen minutes in and turns Toretto into one of her own. Sure, all she really does is speechify throughout the entire movie and her motives don’t necessarily add up, but because she’s an academy award winning actress she comes across as the most sinister villain the series has ever seen. And that’s saying a lot considering Jason Statham returns as Deckard Shaw, the villain in Furious 7 who (*SPOILER*) killed Han (Sung Kang). But even in that movie you liked him because they managed to put the Transporter in this franchise, and surprisingly he comes off as the second best big name action star in this film after delivering on two thrilling action sequences. Sure, the rest of the crew hasn’t forgiven him for his past, but that’s all pushed under the rug so we can get back to the action.

Curiously, however, it’s Dwayne Johnson who feels somewhat underused in this film. This is stupefying considering in Furious 7 he gets beat up by Statham in the beginning and then shows up for the climatic battle in LA and that’s it. Sure, he’s in this movie a lot, but Statham upstages him. Matter of fact, other than the two fight sequences where he beats up all the bad guys, his most memorable scene is one where he performs a Samoan dance ritual before a little girls soccer game. On top of that, he doesn’t really share the screen with Vin Diesel at all, a puzzling decision considering it was their palpable on-screen chemistry that made the last 3 movies arguably the best of the series. This is where I come in and say the rumors of Johnson and Diesel not getting along during filming must have been true, because Johnson isn’t given much to do and why take away one of your strengths from the previous three entrees? Like I said, he has more screen time this time around than the seventh movie, but he doesn’t feel as important as he has been. Even his buddy-buddy turn teaming with Statham feels out of place.

Of course the plot centers on the godfather of this franchise, Vin Diesel, even though it doesn’t feel like he’s in the movie that much, either. However, I must applaud his decision to unwillingly be coerced into a turncoat this time around. While I was at first skeptical and said out-loud “Really? That’s why you’re with Charlize Theron?” when that big reveal happened, it’s made up for with the second part of that reveal. Now obviously no one would confuse Diesel with Marlon Brando in terms of acting prowess, but his characterization of a conflicted Toretto actually  functions well within the story, even though he’s recycling the same “it’s all about family” monologues we’ve come to know the character by.

The rest of the crew is back too, but they all fall back on their characterizations from the other movies as well. Letty is still the tough girl who hasn’t given up on Dom, Tyrese Gibson reprises his role as Jar Jar Binks/ Roman Pierce, Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are the computer geniuses of the group, and Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody is one eye patch away from turning into Snake Plissken from Escape From New York and Escape From LA.

None of that matters, as it all takes a back seat to the action. Director F. Gary Grey (Straight Outta Compton, The Italian Job) does a marvelous job staging and shooting the action sequences, which of course are nosier and more epic in scale than the last film. You get a wrecking ball wrecking cars. You get a huge prison riot. You get cars creating carmaggedon in New York City. You get a submarine. It feels like with every passing Fast and Furious movie there’s an obligation to out-do the previous one without totally jumping the shark (*I mean, they did that in the last one by flying cars out of planes and between buildings*), and that’s exactly what Fate does. At this rate the Fast and Furious movies aren’t really action movies anymore, they’re theme-park rides. And as a fan of this series, the dumber and more preposterous it gets, the more fun I have with them, and Fate does not disappoint. In the next two films, I predict they finally crossover with the Transformers franchise by calling it TransFurious and then go to outer space.

However, I cannot neglect to mention the absence of Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner. He and his wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) are mentioned in the film, and its pretty cool they get to live on in the Fast universe. But it’s The Fate of the Furious that made me finally understand what his role was in the other films: he was the glue of the team. The levelheaded, non-testosterone induced male character that kept everyone together. Sure, this film gets by just fine without him, but one can only wonder now what The Fate of the Furious would’ve been like had the actor not tragically died in a car wreck back in November of 2013.

And now for the all-important question: where does Fate rank in the series? Personally, I think it overtakes the first film and comes in third place. A more compelling Dominic Torreto, a fabulous turn from Statham, and even more epic action makes Fate another winning entry in the Fast franchise. Not to mention the fact that the series is now a full-fledged soap opera with the inclusion of an academy award winning actresses’ new character not named Charlize Theron and inclusion and even resurrection of characters you forgot were even in the series.

Most people would think sixteen years and eight movies later that the Fast and Furious franchise is running on reserve fuel. That there’s no way there could be two more films coming out within the next four years. Judging by the events that take place in The Fate of the Furious, this franchise has plenty of gas left in the tank.

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars. Pay Full Price.

Bro-Commentary: Ranking the Fast and the Furious Films

The Fast and the Furious film series is the greatest soap opera to ever grace the silver screen. It all started sixteen years ago with the low budget Point Break-esque rip-off The Fast and The Furious. This Friday, the eighth (*you heard that right, there are eight of these movies*) and latest chapter in the macho-fueled franchise hits theaters. Being the fan that I am of these films, I thought it would be appropriate to look back and rank the films from worst to best before the next installment crashes into theaters. This is easier said than done, seeing as on any given day, my ranking of these films could change. But for the sake of this post, here’s how the films stack-up:

7. The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift

The third only film in the series that focuses solely on street racing, The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift is unequivocally the worst in the Fast franchise. For some incomprehensible reason, it has become popular to say Tokyo Drift is a genius film and one of the best the series has to offer. These people should be smacked in the mouth for saying something so blasphemous. The film is responsible for the franchises’ unnecessarily complex timeline in an attempt to make it disappear from the series. None of the original or 2nd movie casts appear save for a Vin Diesel cameo at the very end, prompting audiences everywhere to ignore the film. In fact, the film performed so poorly at the box office that Universal was going to turn the series into a direct-to-DVD franchise. Any film in a film series that nearly manages to wreck it to the point a major film studio would turn any follow-ups into direct to video releases is deserving of last place. But hey, the titular song “Tokyo Drift” is still a banger.

6. 2 Fast 2 Furious

Anytime you’ve been in a car with someone attempting to drive like the stunt drivers in the movies, you’ve screamed out 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS since it’s so catchy. The 2nd film features Paul Walker returning as Brian O’Conner, substitutes singer/actor Tyrese Gibson for Vin Diesel, and travels to a new location in Miami, Florida. Oh yeah, males everywhere developed fantasies for the scorching female lead Eva Mendes upon watching it as well. 2 Fast 2 Furious also has the distinction of being the greatest homoerotic action movie of all time, as the bromance between Diesel and Walker in the first film is traded for near romance whenever Walker and Gibson appear on screen, which is practically the whole movie. 2 Fast 2 Furious is a fun action movie with a killer soundtrack, but something about having the film Diesel-less makes it not feel like a true sequel to the first film.

5. Fast and Furious

The film that single-handedly saved the franchise from straight-to-video hell, Fast and Furious reunites the original cast to help jump-start and reboot the series. It was the first film that left audiences asking “Wait, weren’t these movies about street racing?”, as only one race occurs in the film. That didn’t matter, as the movie reminded us of why we loved the first film. The bromance between Diesel and Walker is on full display, and upping the ante with the exhilarating action sequences breathed new life into the franchise. It also took the franchise into the direction we have grown accustomed to: a global action thrill ride.

4. Fast and Furious 6

The title itself would suggest the franchises’ please refuel light has gone on, but the events that unfold in Fast and Furious 6 demonstrate the exact opposite. When it comes to the sixth installment, bigger is definitely better, as the action gets larger in scale and even more ridiculous. It also gave birth to the idea that the heroes and heroines in the film are the Avengers. One outstanding example of this theory is when Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto surfs on a vehicle, crashes it, catches an air-borne Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty Ortiz mid-air, crashes into the windshield of a car, and brushes it off like it’s nothing. It also sets the stage for the seventh film, where it is revealed (*SPOILER*) that the transporter himself Jason Statham was the man responsible the death of crew member Han (Sung Kang) in Tokyo Drift. Fast and Furious 6 does drag a bit in the middle, but it’s an effective sequel that showcases the franchise ever-growing big budget thrills.

3.The Fast and the Furious

 The one that started it all. As mentioned earlier, The Fast and the Furious was just another knockoff of one of the most overrated action films of all time. Somehow, however, the chemistry between Vin Diesel and Paul Walker captivated audiences. We bought into Dominic Toretto’s bravado and sentiment of family above everything else. The street races made everyone want to turn into the low-level street racers we saw on screen. Back in 2001, no one could have ever imagined that this low-budgeted action-thriller would birth one of the most high-octane movie franchises of all time, but for its time, it was a thrilling ride that turned Vin Diesel into a bona fide star.

2. Fast Five

 The fifth installment of the series saw every hero from the first four films (minus Lucas Black, because of the asinine timeline) reunite to pull off an Ocean’s Eleven-esque heist in Rio de Janeiro. It also added Dwayne Johnson (also known as The Rock in his WWE days) as Luke Hobbs into the mix as a formidable opponent to Toretto and the gang. The action sequences, including a bank safe wrecking the city of Rio de Janeiro and an epic fight between Diesel and Johnson, took the series to new unforeseen heights. The result? A testosterone-fueled slugfest that resulted in critics finally embracing the action franchise. It’s the second best sequel of the bunch, and arguably the best the series has to offer.

1.Furious 7

Furious 7 is the pinnacle of the Fast and the Furious movies. The heroes fly cars out of planes. They fly cars through buildings. Vin Diesel literally becomes the Hulk and stomps his foot to make a parking structure crater to the ground. Its action is completely preposterous. But it’s the emotional resonance that makes Furious 7 the best above the rest. During the middle of filming, Paul Walker unexpectedly died in a car crash. The franchise was at a crossroads: would they stop filming and scrap the franchise? Or would they carry-on? Universal decided to finish filming, though massive re-writes had to occur. The final scenes with (*SPOILER*) Walker’s O’Conner retiring from the game with a Diesel narrated tribute to Walker and the tearjerker song of the century “See You Again” brought me to tears. Yes, I’m an overly invested fan in the series, but even the most cynical of people have to admit it was a heartfelt tribute. All of these elements make Furious 7 the best of the Fast Franchise. Whether The Fate of the Furious can match it remains to be seen, but it has quite the act to follow.