The holiday season is always good for a few family-friendly comedies, and Sony’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is the latest example of this reality. Boasting a talented cast, Jumanji looks to bring the beloved Robin Williams’ film into a new age with a few slick updates up its sleeve. The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Jake Kasdan
Written By: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner
Four high schoolers get sent to detention after school for various infractions during the school day. Their punishment leads them to the basement where they discover a video game system entitled Jumanji. Bored, the teenagers turn the game on, which then sucks all of them into the world of the game. Within the game, they become the avatars they chose, led by Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Johnson). Reluctantly, the four must finish the game without perishing or else face obvious consequences.
In 2012, rumors began to swirl that Sony was planning to reimagine Jumanji for a new generation with an updated concept to the game that traps you in it until its finished. However, it took until 2015 for Sony to confirm that the reboot of sorts was occurring and that it would release on December 25th, 2016. But, initial reception of this move skewed very negative as many claimed that the report came too quickly after the death of Robin Williams, the star of the original film.
From there, Sony proved that initial backlash in a time where everyone has an opinion can be quelled if done properly…and if you have The Rock by your side. Johnson quickly took to his Instagram account (where he has been voted to have one of the most influential accounts on the app) and helped calm the masses. He explained that the film would in fact act as a sequel to the original to honor Robin Williams’ legacy.
Moreover, more backlash ensued once press photos dropped for the film, showing actress Karen Gillan in a skimpy outfit that appeared to objectify her. Dwayne Johnson took to Instagram once again to explain that Gillan outfit was a play on the classic woman badass characters in video games and was only a part of her avatar.
In all cases, a majority of the backlash seemed to subside. Releasing the film a year later then originally planned certainly helped as well. Thanks to The Rock, Sony has a fighting chance to have a hit in a time where it sorely needs one.
The World of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Offers a Cool Upgrade on the Source Material
For sequels of films that released decades ago to work, they need to contain clear updates to the magical feel of the first film while also being entertaining on their own right without resorting to member berries to provide enjoyment. Luckily, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has a lot to offer in this regard. The script is very clever, commenting on the need for changes within the film itself. As a character states, “who plays board games anymore?”
Turning Jumanji into a video game creates a neat, intricate world full of possibilities. Our lead characters have three lives to complete the game’s objectives; they each have different skills to get the job done and promote teamwork; they even interact with other characters that have a limited amount of responses and repeat dialogue to give clues. This world allows for some idiosyncratic writing that boasts reflexive dialogue. With most video games, what you learn and accomplish along the way helps for later quests. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle pays attention to the rules of the world it lays out for you, which is always appreciated in creating a cohesive narrative.
It’s Always Fun to See Known Actors Act Against Type
But, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle succeeds primarily due to likable performances from likable leads. Because these high schoolers are acting as themselves within different looking avatars, the film has some great body comedy. The Rock has the personality of a germaphobic weakling. Kevin Hart has that of a massive football player. Karen Gillan’s character’s outside of the game is a quiet bookworm with limited confidence.
And then there’s Jack Black. As you well know from the marketing material for the film, Black has the personality of a self-absorbed, vapid, popular girl in high school. The film gives Black a ton of opportunity to provide mismatched humor as he oogles after The Rock’s toned physique and offers flirting advice to Karen Gillan’s character. He’s easily the best part of the film, making Jumanji worthwhile on his own.
Each of our four leads has a different kind of comedy to offer that parallels their different abilities within the game. The comedy is well-timed, silly, and doesn’t rely on cheap, mature gags for laughter.
Wasted Potential Makes Jumanji Ultimately a Quick Diversion
However, Jumanji isn’t quite as clever as the above analysis would have you think. The most satisfying video games rely on serviceable odds to make the gameplay that much more fulfilling when its finally completed. But, you never quite feel the sense of danger that a game with limited lives should have. The film stays fluffy and silly, keeping a feeling of immense satisfaction from ever coming. Instead, the jokes are forced to provide most of the entertainment once the world is established, and they’re lacking at times once the plot finally kicks off.
The best video games also provide a worthy adversary to make 30+ hours of gameplay worth it, which Jumanji does not. Instead, we get Bobby Cannavale as a weird guy that attracts nasty animals. The film utilizes game-like cut scenes to explain his backstory and check in on him every so often, but he never comes close to imposing threat. Rather, he’s merely a vessel through which obstacles occur.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle does its best to stay family-friendly, and this persistent pursuit keeps it from giving attention to the grittier parts of the story as well as earning two thumbs up from this critic.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle isn’t the most mentally taxing film you’ll see all year, but it’s a lot of fun. And sometimes, that’s all you need to have a pleasant theater experience. The Rock has as much charisma as ever, Jack Black is pretty hilarious, and Kevin Hart is, well, Kevin Hart. Personally, those elements add up to a quality film. When you add in a clever script with solid direction from director Jake Kasdan, Jumanji is worthy of your hard-earned money on some level.
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