Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, a sequel that is more like a soft-reboot of the 1996 Robin Williams classic, opens with a teenager asking himself “who plays board games anymore?” As times change, old fads must evolve to stay popular with the new generation, and board games are no exception. This sequel takes that idea literally, as Jumanji transforms itself at the beginning of the movie into an old-school video game cartridge ready to terrorize a new generation of unsuspecting players.
The new Jumanji feels like a modern-day retelling of The Breakfast Club. A jock, a gamer, a party girl and an edgy, shy girl all end up in detention together and are forced to spend time cleaning out the school’s basement, but they stumble into a little more than they expected when they find an old video game laying in the dust. Once all of them get sucked into Jumanji, courtesy of some incredibly cheesy CGI, they are put into the bodies of the different players they chose in the game. Nerdy and insecure Spencer becomes Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), bashful Martha is transformed into butt-kicking Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), football star Fridge is turned into Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart), the team’s resident zoologist and backpack guy, while Bethany, who cares more about her phone and looks than anything else, is turned into a middle-aged cartographer (Jack Black). As Bethany eloquently puts it, “change your status to stuck in a video game” because these kids aren’t going anywhere until they break Jumanji’s curse and beat the game.
Directed by Jake Kasdan, director of Bad Teacher and Sex Tape, Jumanji is an adventure-filled movie that sacrifices the emotional intimacy of the original for a never-ending stream of action and body-swapping jokes. Tonal shifts between adrenaline-infused fights and absurd comedic beats involving cake, culminating in a fun, light-hearted holiday treat. It’s not a bad movie, it just doesn’t leave audiences with the same sense of wonder or empathy towards the main characters that the original did. There were scary animals and threats in the first film, but it never went over the top like this one does. Ultimately, the two Jumanji movies are made for entirely different purposes and have few similarities. While the original was made to be a heart-warming story about family and friendship, the new one is a movie made to showcase how much badass The Rock is.
Structurally, the movie is made to feel like a video game. There’s a pretty large amount of exposition sprinkled throughout the movie, but it’s given to the audience in a clever way. Just like video games have non-playable characters who repeat a few phrases and give the main characters certain pieces of information, the movie has characters sprinkled throughout who only react to certain prompts and say the same phrase repeatedly. Jumanji even gets away with using a flashback by having one of the character’s call it a cut-scene. Where the video game structure starts to feel like a hindrance is with the inclusion of a big bad guy, in this case, Bobby Cannavale’s one-dimensional and obsessive villain. The fact that these kids might die at any moment due to a hippopotamus or stampede of rhinos is exciting enough, so the movie didn’t need a central villain with a team of Mad Max-inspired thugs. At one point, Hart’s Finbar asks himself, “what is this game?” and with the mish-mash of different genre tropes, I found myself thinking the same thing. Everyone even has three lives in the game, so the extreme caution and wits that the characters needed to survive in the original aren’t as essential this time around.
The movie’s strength is easily its central cast. Johnson may get top billing, but Black and Hart steal the show here. Everyone in the cast, including Gillan, best known for her roles in Doctor Who and Guardians of the Galaxy, gets a moment to shine. The chemistry between everyone is fantastic and they all have opportunities to interact with one another in ways that push each character outside of their comfort zone.
Comedy is where the movie shines brightest, and all of it comes from the actor’s performances. Watching Hart complain his way through the jungle and Black flirt with both The Rock and Nick Jonas is not a bad way to spend an hour and forty-four minutes. There aren’t many long-form gags, but the fun, Apatow-esque riffing back and forth between the cast makes up for the relatively comedic writing.
In an era dominated by unnecessary reboots (I’m looking at you The Mummy), it’s too bad that a classic like Jumanji had to be thrown into the mix. Sure, the film passed the five laugh test, but it was also held back by a paper-thin plot that doesn’t do the original justice. With five screenwriters, the final result is a jumbled film packed with Sony product placement and extremely cheesy dialogue. As a family-friendly comedy, this movie definitely works and now I can die happy that I’ve heard Jack Black enthusiastically scream “YASS QUEEN.” But really, part of me just wants to label it Boomanji and be done with it.
Final Score: 6/10
5 Superhero Projects You Should Be Excited About In 2018
Some people may complain about superhero fatigue, but for fans of the genre, 2018 looks like it will be an amazing year. Not only will hit shows like Marvel’s Daredevil and Arrow continue, but there are a lot of new projects coming for superhero fans. Ranging from games to movies, Marvel and DC have been hard at work turning their comic book characters into multimedia icons.
This list doesn’t even include things like New Mutants and The Runaways, two superhero projects coming in 2018. There are so many amazing things coming out of the comic book world, with new projects seemingly announced every day, so this is just a quick rundown of the five things that excite my inner fanboy.
Hit Next to learn more about five exciting superhero projects coming in 2018!