Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

Genre: Action Comedy and Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 59 min.

Release Date: December 20th, 2017 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Jake Kasdan Actors: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Rhys Darby, Bobby Cannavale, Nick Jonas, Alex Wolff, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner

 


 

I

n 1996, an old wooden box housing a board game washes up on the beach of Brantford. Alex takes it home, but leaves it on a shelf, uninterested in tinkering with an antiquated form of entertainment. “Who plays board games?” But it’s not long before the pulsing of a jungle beat emanates from the box, revealing a video game cartridge. Having transformed into the latest technology, Jumanji is now ready to enslave a contemporary victim.

20 years later, nerdy teenager Spencer (Alex Wolff) “tutors” footballer friend Anthony “Fridge” (Ser’Darius Blain) by writing reports for him – an act that lands them both in detention. Bethany (Madison Iseman), obsessed with social media, calls her friend in the middle of an exam, while the rebellious, existentialist Martha (Morgan Turner) insults the gym teacher – resulting in both of them winding up in detention as well. Notably like “The Breakfast Club,” these distinct high school clique representatives must serve out their sentences together, in the isolation of a disused room. Additionally tasked with removing staples from magazines to be recycled, the group discovers the Jumanji video game and decides to give it a try.

In no time at all, the foursome is sucked into the console and heaved into the middle of an uninviting jungle. Instead of pushing pieces across a traditional board, they’re placed inside avatars and forced to navigate the dense terrain in search of a green jewel, which was stolen by the evil Professor Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), causing a curse to be placed on the world of Jumanji. With three lives apiece, they must work together to return the jewel to the Jaguar Shrine, using only specifically designated skills and weapons, an incomplete map, and the occasional guidance of a non-playable character called Nigel (Rhys Darby).

Plenty of movies resemble video games, so it’s not entirely new for this film to do the same, even though it’s entirely on purpose. Oddly, there’s a lack of nods to familiar video games – to the point that this adventure intermittently fails to resemble one. It’s an enormous missed opportunity when no boss fights, or items to collect, or puzzles to solve, or some form of money to amass for use on power-ups or extra lives ever make an appearance. Even fight scenes don’t quite duplicate video game basics – from chases to shootouts to the infiltration of an enemy base. A single scene features booby traps, but it’s merely for a laugh. The writers don’t appear to be well-versed on video games (or concerned with proper emulation), yet they decided to use them as a basis for a modernized Jumanji tale.

Nevertheless, there are a few clever inclusions, such as strengths and weaknesses, in-movie cut scenes (which are merely shots that none of the major characters would normally see), and requiring multiple players to accomplish a goal. But the biggest twist is the utilization of the avatars, which morphs generic teens into larger-than-life, exaggerated heroes: Spencer becomes a musclebound daredevil (Dwayne Johnson), Martha a ruby-haired dance-fighter (Karen Gillan), Fridge a diminutive zoologist (Kevin Hart), and Bethany a curvy paleontologist (Jack Black). This is where the majority of the humor arrives, with the sharply contrasting role reversals: the jock loses two feet of height, the dweeb gains hundreds of pounds of bulk, the loner is awash with sex appeal, and the hot girl becomes a middle-aged fat man.

Back and forth banter is largely amusing, even if the script insists upon containing wholesome themes – such as bonding, introspection, confidence, friendship, and teamwork. Strictly non-video-game elements (including urination, arousal, and flirting) also contribute to the hilarity, making further use of the characters inhabiting bodies that reflect qualities and physiques that the adolescents never had. Though the villain is pointless, the levels and obstacles lack creativity, and the running time is too long, the blend of action and comedy is sound. The execution could have used substantial polishing (it’s flawed in many of the same ways as the 1995 original), but the end result is a fitting update for audiences of 2017.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10