Usually I start these reviews with an off-topic ramble before getting to my main point. This time it starts with a rant. Because board games, and tabletop games for that matter, are still popular. More popular than they have been for a while. Most likely for the same reasons that vinyl made a comeback, more and more people are returning to the charms of a board game. There is still something rather fun about trying to get through a game of Monopoly without having a raging argument. So maybe Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle didn’t need to be based on a video game. But is it any good?
Nerd Spencer (Alex Wolff, Patriots Day), jock football player Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain, Survivor’s Remorse), self-obsessed teen girl Bethany (Madison Iseman, Still the King) and shy Martha (Morgan Turner, Invincible) have all been put in detention. While being stuck in the school basement, they discover a video game, Jumanji. But when they play it they get sucked into the game, with Spencer becoming Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), Fridge becoming Franklin ‘Mouse’ Finbar (Kevin Hart, Ride Along), Bethany becoming Sheldon ‘Shelly’ Oberon (Jack Black, School of Rock) and Martha becoming Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan, Selfie). In order to get back to the real world, they need to finish the game.
So despite my little rant at the top, it makes sense for Jumanji to be a video game. There is a brief explanation at the start that it turns into a video game because people started to ignore board games in the 90s, which I’m not sure is fair as I was playing them in the mid-2000s but whatever, and now it’s a different movie from the original. Because the original Jumanji was a very fun blockbuster and would be very hard to beat. Heck, Zathura tried and the fact you are wondering what I’m going on about shows you how well that movie did. But no, turning into a video game means that the movie can have fun taking the fun out of another medium and use their tropes in an original way. And the movie does that well. Having seen the trailers you know they have three lives which allows for some decent dramatic stakes as well as some comedy at times. And remember the most cheesy element of 90s games? They are all in here, loving recreated and mocked. And yes, there is a reason for Karen Gillan to be wearing that controversial skimpy outfit, though there is an element of trying to have their cake and eat it too.
The strength of the movie is the cast in the video game. I was complaining in the Rampage review that I was bored of Dwayne Johnson doing the same thing and there is definitely an element of that in this movie, but at least the fact he has to channel some of a geeky 16-year-old means you can separate this role from some of his others. I’m actually a big fan of Kevin Hart and unlike Dwayne Johnson, I don’t seem in every other movie so the fact he plays the same character every time is still amusing to me. Definitely one that could get annoying though if he starts popping up in more things. I also really like Karen Gillan as she comes to term that she is actually a badass. But it is Jack Black who steals the show. He is playing a 16-year-old girl and makes this the funniest thing in the movie. Ok, I could do without the long scene of him learning how to wee but other than that, it’s very funny. I welcome Jack Black to the fold after being sick of him for so long.
There is something refreshing about this movie just trying to be a fun movie more than everything else. Yes there is a message which is about friendship (Boring!) and also about being comfortable in your own body (Bo…actually that’s a pretty good theme and it’s well executed as well), but the movie is more about having some fun with this cast. And for the most part, the movie does well in that. There’s nothing especially brilliant about the action scenes, but they are fairly well done and shot and they create the right amount of excitement that the movie needs. There is an over reliance on men on bikes though. So many men on bikes.
Ok, let’s get on to the issues the movie has because unfortunately, it’s not perfect. Firstly, what a waste of a villain. This time Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale, The Station Agent) is a man who is made of up of nasty creatures and is able to use said nasty creatures to inflict serious pain. This is a great concept for a villain and you could come up with a lot of fun scenes with him interacting and fighting the heroes. However for the most part he talks with the heroes, just doing sinister things in the background until they show up at his doorstep. Then he does a few things that aren’t very interesting and gets soundly beaten because that’s what the movie asks for. It’s a waste of a good actor and a good idea for a villain.
And in the end, the movie is pretty forgettable. The original Jumanji’s legacy still stands strong today and that’s because the original movie was very memorable. It had a lot of creative ideas and it was a lot of fun to see them unfold on the screen. That same amount of creativity does not exist in this sequel. There’s very few things from this movie that I remember fondly now. There’s the odd line that’s well delivered by the cast that I can sort of remember and there’s that bit where Jack Black tries to have a staring contest with a snake, but not much else. While this movie isn’t terrible and people were surprised that it was good, it still isn’t anything to shout about.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a far better movie than it had any right to be. For a cynical reboot of a popular movie from the 1990s, you do end up having a decent amount of fun with it because of a very game cast. However let’s stop before we hail this as good as the original because it is no way near that level. It has a terrible villain and has very few memorable moments which mark it out as something to remember. You probably will enjoy it if you watch it but I doubt you’ll care much about it after it ends.