Oh boy… this… might not end well.
Like most kids in the 90s, I grew up with the first film, starring the late and great Robin Williams. To this day, I have find memories and have a particular love for the film. Granted, it’s been years since I’ve seen it, but while I can imagine some of the effects are dated, I can’t imagine disliking the movie. Although I never did understand making an actual board game out of the movie. Nothing you ever did came to life, so what was the point? Lame game, awesome movie about a game.
But because Hollywood has no shame, Jumanji now has a second movie, twenty-two years later. Feeling old yet, 90s kids? To be honest, I’m not completely opposed to see this film. The original was about the game bringing its elements to the real world and the players have to finish the game, or else… you know, destruction and chaos. But we already know that it’s possible to enter the board game itself if you rolled a five or an eight, but we never did actually get to see what the world of Jumanji looked like. We would eventually get to see it in its tie-in animated cartoon series JUMANJI (1996 – 1999), which lasted three seasons, but up until now, live-action wasn’t in the cards.
Well, now it is live-action and… I can see how this could work. The game is now a video game, updated to something more modern and making it an older game to fit in with its retro roots, and it looks like it’s going to be a play on stereotypes. The kids, one of them scrawny and cowardly, one of them a burly, but jerkish jock, one who is self-absorbed in her own vanity, and one who is probably conservative and not comfortable with her own sexuality, they all seem to be playing polar opposite avatars in the game. The muscular and bad-ass Dwayne Johnson being a coward and the conservative girl played up as an overly sexualized character, it’s all something that could have some great self-aware humor. But who knows? And to be honest, I have no idea what’s going to happen. I have no idea what the main goal of their game is. Probably to get from point A to point B, but still, the plot is surprisingly secretive, unless I’ve not seen any recent trailers. But this movie looks like a comedy, whereas the original is actually kind of a drama. That’s not to say that there wasn’t comedy, but really think about it: it wasn’t really a comedy either. I don’t know how to feel about that change in genre.
Anyway, here’s the cast. Starring, we have Dwayne Johnson (BAYWATCH , and upcoming films RAMPAGE  and FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY ), Karen Gillan (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 , THE BIG SHORT , OCULUS , and upcoming films AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR  and THE PARTY’S JUST BEGINNING ), Kevin Hart (CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS , GET HARD , RIDE ALONG , and upcoming films NIGHT SCHOOL  and LAST FRIDAY ), Jack Black (KUNG FU PANDA 3 , and upcoming films DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT  and GOOSEBUMPS 2: HAUNTED HALLOWEEN ), and Bobby Canavale (I, TONYA , and upcoming films THE IRISHMAN  and GOING PLACES ).
In support, we have Alex Wolff (PATRIOTS DAY , MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 , and upcoming films DUDE  and STELLA’S LAST WEEKEND ), Ser’Darius Blain (upcoming films BENEATH THE LEAVES  and THE LAST FULL MEASURE ), Madison Iseman (stuff I’ve either never heard of, but will be starring in the upcoming CRASH BLOSSOM ), Morgan Turner (WONDERSTRUCK ), and Nick Jonas (stuff I’ve either never heard of).
Now for the crew. The director is Jake Kasdan, known for stuff I’ve either never heard of. Co-writing the screenplay, a red-flag total of four writers, we have duo Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING , LEGO BATMAN , and upcoming films ANT-MAN AND THE WASP  and SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME ), Scott Rosenberg (CON AIR , and the upcoming VENOM ), and Jeff Pinkner (THE DARK TOWER , THE 5TH WAVE , and the upcoming VENOM). Composing the score is Henry Jackman, known for KINGSMAN: GOLDEN CIRCLE (2017), CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER (2014), X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011), and upcoming films RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH 2 (2018) and SEC-NINE (2020). The cinematographer is Gyula Pados, known for MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS (2015), PREDATORS (2010), and the upcoming MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE (2018). Finally, the co-editors are Steve Edwards (REIGN OVER ME ) and Mark Helfrich (X-MEN: THE LAST STAND , RUSH HOUR , and PREDATOR ).
Overall, I’m not expecting this to be good, but I’m hoping that Johnson and Gillan can bring… something to the table that makes this tolerable because I can already tell I’m not going to like Hart or Black.
This is my honest opinion of: JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
In 1996, the board game that changed that life of Alan Parish has managed to make its way back to the United States into the hands of teenager Alex Vreek (Mason Guccione), who isn’t interested in a board game, but rather video games. Jumanji then turns itself into a video game cartridge, and when Alex tries to play it, is sucked into the game. Twenty years later, four teenagers, the bookish but anxious Spencer (Alex Wolff), football player Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), the self-important and narcissistic Bethany (Madison Iseman), and the cynical, but well-meaning Martha (Morgan Turner), have all gotten detention in school for various reasons and are tasked with cleaning a dirty room. In their efforts, they come across the video game console and Jumanji and in an effort to skimp on their responsibilities, play the game, and get sucked into the world of Jumanji as their video game avatars, Alex as the muscular Dr. Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Fridge as the diminutive Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart), Martha as the attractive and deadly Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), and Bethany as the overweight Shelly (Jack Black). In this world, they have to battle against the forces of the jungle, which are being controlled by the demonically possessed Van Pelt (Bobby Canavale), who had stolen the “Jaguar’s Eye” and must be returned to its rightful place and bring balance to Jumanji.
It’s better than I thought. There’s plenty of room for improvement, and is not better than the original, but for how bad this movie could have been, it’s not bad.
Problems first. The sin of the film is the world of Jumanji itself. Not to say that the jungle isn’t aesthetically pleasing to look at, or in any way wears out its welcome, but it’s the dangers that our heroes face. For the fans of the original, think about that movie. What dangers did they all face? Rampaging rhinos, elephants, and other animals. A monsoon that came with a giant crocodile… not an alligator because they don’t have that fringe handling. Troublesome monkeys, a boy turning into a monkey, attacking lions, killer plants, a psychotic hunter, the list went on. Compare that to this flick, the dangers are surprisingly and disappointingly limited in imagination. A majority of the dangers that this movie throws at our heroes is Mad Max style dudes with motorcyles that have guns. What… the actual hell? Okay, there are hungry hungry hippos (immediate respect for those who laughed at my reference), rampaging rhinos, and attacking jaguars, but… that’s about it. Okay, they deal with a black mamba, but that’s a pretty quick scene. The rest of the dangers are dudes with guns, or a little too much drama between the characters. The first film balanced everything out so much better. There’s a diverse amount of danger, a healthy amount of drama, appropriate comedy, it’s so much more visually memorable, and considering that the villain is supposed to be demonically possessed and able to control the world of Jumanji itself, the sheer lack of imagination of what to do with these powers is almost sickeningly absent.
With that said… I’d be lying if I said this movie didn’t pleasantly surprise me.
If you watch the trailers, the movie looks like it’s going to be all jokes. Essentially, a comedy. This is thankfully not the case. Okay, yeah, there’s jokes and some of them don’t work. The make-out scene between Spencer-Bravestone and Martha-Ruby is unbelievably awkward. I don’t care how inexperienced of a teenager you are in kissing, movies and TV shows exist. They’re not gaping their mouths wide open and licking their faces. That was borderline gross. I can imagine teens puckering their lips, but not… that. But anyway, getting off track. There is a staggering amount of drama and it’s played pretty straight. Sure, a cowardly Johnson is fun to behold, but there are legit issues that the characters have with each other. Spencer and Fridge used to be really good friends, but then Fridge got popular and stopped hanging out with him, only talking to him so Spencer can do his homework for him so he can focus on sports and whatever else. There’s even a surprisingly humane scene between Martha-Ruby and Bethany-Shelly where Martha starts ragging on Bethany’s vanity and self-absorption, but makes such a good point about her choices that Bethany thinks about it and admits that she has her problems. On a personal note, this is truly what carries the movie through and ultimately makes it work.
The charging rhinos scene is really admittedly cool, I think it’s clever that the movie changes the Jumanji game from a board game to a video game, the brief appearances of the impossibly beautiful and criminally not-as-famous-as-she-should-be Missi Pyle and Marc Evan Jackson from THE GOOD PLACE (2016 – ongoing) are delightful bonuses, and infamous Jumanji drums are given a purpose that surprisingly sends a chill down your spine. Bravo for that inclusion.
I really want to talk about the writing here because it really is quite astounding to me. As I previously mentioned, there is comedy in this movie and it’s a little more prominent here than in the original. Like I also said, some of it works. Watching Gillan fail at being sexy and being taught by Black how to strut and be seductive is quite hilarious. And some of it doesn’t work, as I previously mentioned as well. But where the movie truly surprises me is the amount of restraint it has from making truly awful jokes. There’s a scene where Bethany-Shelly is trying to save Alex-Seaplane (Nick Jonas) via CPR. I think you can guess the joke: Jack Black makes out with Nick Jonas. Hardy har…. har? Actually, no, that’s not what they do. They don’t make a joke at all. You really see a situation where someone is trying to save another person’s life. There was a previously established connection, it’s developed over the course of a brief amount of time, and, while I won’t go so far as to say that the scene gets any emotional, I buy it. I know what the movie was going for and I think the acting, the character arcs, and the emotions were played properly to really feel for the scene. It really pays off in a surprisingly effective way in the end when Alex tells the teens that his daughter was named after Bethany, after the woman that saved his life. That was really touching, easily cementing Bethany as my favorite character in the film.
The movie has a surprising amount of merit for what I thought I was going to get and certainly how awful it could have been. In some ways, even a lot of ways, you still get some of that awful crap. Seriously, guys with guns? Screw you too, movie! But the acting ranges from passable to pretty good, a miraculous feat in itself considering I don’t consider myself either a Jack Black or Kevin Hart fan, making the drama surprisingly engaging and the characters more three-dimensional than initially presented. Objectively speaking, no, it’s not a good film… but there was just enough to make it worth my time and energy, so it did a few things right in the end. My recommendation is… viewer beware. If you’re going in expecting something that will compare with the original, you’re only setting yourself up for massive disappointment. But if you’re going in with a similar mindset that I had, just hoping for something that doesn’t feel like a waste… eh, I’ll say make it a rental. It was worth my time, but I can’t say for sure who would truly agree with me. I enjoyed it enough. This evolved game doesn’t compare to the original, but it’s not a bad experience.
My honest rating for JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE: 3/5