Review by Josh Teggert
Hollywood: a declining spiral of blockbuster regurgitation. Almost devoid of originality, it is now scraping the bottom of the barrel for something vaguely recognisable to remake for a modern audience. The latest to be subject to this desperate system is the 1995 classic, Jumanji.
However, for those worried about the first film being tarnished by this sequel, fear not. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is actually a surprisingly entertaining spectacle; a worthwhile reinvention that implements plenty of fun spins on the original, yet remains true to its legacy as well as to the beloved late Robin Williams.
After what feels like a rather forced opening scene, it is established that the ‘Jumanji’ game has upgraded itself from a board to a console cartridge input. Director Jake Kasdan plays with the video game tropes inventively – the introduction of a 3 lives basis adds some level of stakes to the story, as well as allowing the characters to die and respawn in some very enticing ways.
Admittedly, the first 20 or-so-minutes is the typical slow-burning exposition we’ve come to expect. But this attaches the audience to the main four as children, as what Welcome to the Jungle rides hardest on, is the relationship between the primary characters. So, when the quartet select their avatars and the big names finally appear on screen, it does become a joy to watch. The nerdy Spencer becomes muscular explorer Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), while Fridge, a large footballer, transforms into tiny zoologist Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), after misreading the name as “Moose”. Teenage basket case Martha selects Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), a beautiful yet fearless commando, and the stereotypical ‘It Girl’ Bethany becomes the overweight male Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black).
The script embraces the archetypes of each character well enough to keep things engaging. All four continually show their worth which results in a generally balanced team dynamic, making the apparent connection they have with one another feel more authentic. Johnson, Hart, Gillan and Black are truly excellent in their respective roles, each providing genuinely believable, and moreover, consistently amusing performances of their younger characters’ personalities. Halfway through the film though, the introduction of a fifth member (name redacted) dampens the energetic spirit of the group somewhat, as he never feels as integrated nor as well-played as the others.
Furthermore, the villainous Russel Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) – a different version of the character played by Jonathan Hyde in the original – is enormously insignificant despite his supposed “boss level” attributes. As well as this, for a film designed as a videogame scenario, in which anything can happen, every twist and turn along the way feels discouragingly predictable.
That said, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a sequel that not only provides a tasteful tribute to Williams and the original, but is also a largely pleasing film that is sure to provide a sufficient box office return. Because after all, isn’t that what it’s all about these days?