UK Release Date: 20th December 2017
Runtime: 119 minutes
Director: Jake Kasdan
Writer: Jake Kasdan, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale, Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Ser’Darius Blain, Morgan Turner
Synopsis: Four teenagers in detention find themselves transported into the jungle of an adventure-based video game.
The notion of a sequel to 1995’s Jumanji is not something many people have been clamouring for, particularly after the sad death of star Robin Williams in 2014. However, that didn’t stop Sony moving forward with a follow-up, shifting the adventure from the world of a board game to the inside of an arcade-style video game. It’s the very definition of a perfunctory sequel, with little to no reason for its existence. Despite all of that, though, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a very enjoyable adventure romp that, against all odds, is actually the rarest of achievements – a good video game film.
In a bizarre prologue, the essence of the board game is transported into an Atari-style cartridge and a teen is sucked into the game. Two decades later, a group of teenagers uncover the cartridge while clearing out a basement as part of a detention they are serving together. The distracted youngsters choose avatars and are promptly pulled into the world of the game, with weedy Spencer becoming Dr Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), his jock sort-of-buddy Fridge becoming map specialist Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart), introverted Martha transforming into arse-kicking hero Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and Instagram-loving Bethan moving into the body of overweight professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black).
The central premise of Jumanji is a smart new take on the initial concept and one that creates plenty of comedic potential from the very start. The body swap idea allows all four of the adult performers to access the kind of physical comedy they don’t often get to utilise. Jack Black, in particular, excels in channelling the ‘Queen Bee’ of the group, who is seemingly more distressed at her lack of a phone than at the constant threat of marauding CGI beasties trying to eat her. A scene in which Bethan goes to the toilet for the first time in her body is played for delightfully puerile laughs by Black.
Dwayne Johnson, too, uses every inch of his macho charm in a role that is conscious of his star wattage, but also willing to giggle self-parodically at his capability for “smouldering intensity” as a superpower. He also renews his chemistry with Central Intelligence co-star Kevin Hart, whose squeaky small dude shtick is perfect as the alter ego of a bulky football ace feeling emasculated by his smaller stature. Their bickering and one-upmanship feels like the ideal dynamic within a video game scenario.
These character relationships ensure there’s a constant stream of jokes running through Jumanji. The film also works as an action movie, with the nicked video game conceit of characters losing lives serving to create real tension to the dramatic set pieces. Director Jake Kasdan, best known for dismal comedies like Sex Tape and Bad Teacher, showcases a surprising aptitude for action, conjuring memorable chase sequences and fights with real bite. It’s in these segments that Karen Gillan is really able to shine as crack fighter Ruby Roundhouse, though the script’s self-referential nods are not well-written enough for the filmmakers to have their bikini cake and eat it with her impractical dress.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle doesn’t break any new ground in its approach, but it’s smart enough and frothy enough to be a near-perfect family movie over the Christmas period when no one wants to sit through two and a half hours of Star Wars all over again. It’s a light blast of action spectacle, but one that’s packed with innately likeable performances and the sort of genuine sense of jeopardy that is entirely absent from many modern blockbusters. It may not be a board game this time, but it’s still worth a roll of the dice.
Pop or Poop?
Four tremendous comedic performances provide Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle with a sharp, silly heart. It proves to be the perfect centrepiece for an adventure romp with real stakes and real heart, culminating in a positive messages about finding yourself and becoming comfortable in your own skin. Plus, Dwayne Johnson gets to smoulder for two hours. That’s worth the ticket price alone.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.