Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle review
Roll the dice. Say the poem. Run from the animal. Repeat. This is exactly the plot from the 1995 family fantasy Jumanji. On the one hand its simple, but on the other, it makes for a fast paced concept, that's ironically slower then you'd imagine. But surrounding it, is a story about facing your fears, growing up, and finishing something you started. Jumanji was one of my favorites as a child…and still is as an adult. A lot of that steams from Robin William's performance, which is more subtle then usual, and that the movie is genuinely scary. I even remember reading critical reviews that complained on how scary Jumanji was for children, but I think adults underestimate just how much children can take.
So when it was announced that a sequel was being made, that generated a lot of responses, including how Robin Williams death makes continuing the story unnecessary. There is truth to that, and I'd be lying if I wasn't a skeptic. It changed when I found out that the characters were going into the game. Believe it or not, this is partially the plot for the Jumanji animated series from the nineties (which is pretty good if you can find it). So let's see if Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is just as entertaining.
In the modern era, a group of high school kids are given detention. We have a hyprocondriac nerd Spencer (played by Alex Wolff), a sports jock footballer Anthony "Fridge"(played by Ser'Darius Blain), a self centered Instagram star Bethany (played by Madison Iseman) and the shy bookworm Martha (played by Morgan Turner). While working, the kids find an old game console (think Nintendo 64) along with a playable game Jumanji. When they decide to play, they all select the chareters they want, and they get sucked into the game.
Waking up in a jungle, the kids find they have changed into their chosen characters. Spencer is now Dr. Smolder Bravestone (played by Dwayne Johnson), Anthony is a zoologist Franklin "Mouse" (played by Kevin Hart), Martha is now a commando Ruby Roundhouse (played by Karen Gillan), and Bethany is Professor Sheldon (played by Jack Black). They find that if they want to escape, they have to finish the game of returning a jewel to a mountain. They also find that they have to succumb to the rules of video games…including that if they die three times, it's game over for good.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle succeeds in two areas. First, it does feel like an expansion of the world of Jumanji. I like that they show that the animals are just as intimidating…if not more, as they can be possessed. They have villages, airports, and of course, various enemies that are what's you'd expect from video games. Secondly, the movie works as a video game movie. The script makes a lot of jokes when it comes to how they work. Certain characters repeat information; our heroes know things will only get harder towards the end, and they even have certain weaknesses.
The best part about this movie isn't even the jungle, but our main actors. That's because since their just video game avatars, guys like Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillan play against their typical roles. Jack Black gets a lot of laughs as he plays up the idea that he's just a teenage girl on the inside. The only one whose playing himself is Kevin Hart, who doesn't do enough to act like a football player whose now shorter. But regardless, it was fun to see these four make the journey into the jungle, making this a lot like an Indiana Jones movie.
The film does fall in certain areas. First of all, I was worried by the intro as I thought it was terrible. We get a scene of the Jumanji board game change itself into a video game just so people would play it (does it even know what video games are?). The high school parts are pretty stock. Just bland geeks, bland jocks, bland teachers, bland lockers, bland everything! It's clear that the storywriters cared more about the jungle sequences then school. I'll also say that parts of the film can be a little too heavy CGI (though it's a big step up from the effects of the original Jumanji), but it lacks a lot of the scares from the old movie that I loved. Oh well.
I'll give this four Jumanji board games out of five. I'll admit that I was surprised by what I did enjoy out of this. It's different from before, but I'd rather have the sequel take more chances then to do a rehash. Families and fans of the original Jumanji will find plenty to like. Give it a roll and move forward.