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.
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.