Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle movie review

For inSing

JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE

Director : Jake Kasdan
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale, Rhys Darby, Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Ser’Darius Blaine, Morgan Turner, Marc Evan Jackson
Genre : Action/Adventure/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 59m
Opens : 21 December 2017
Rating : PG

You’ve probably heard the expression “get your head in the game,” shouted by many a coach at many a distracted school athlete. In this fantasy action comedy, four teenagers get their heads, and the rest of them, stuck in a video game called Jumanji.

Geeky germaphobe Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff), vain popular girl Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman), football jock Anthony “Fridge” Johnson (Ser’Darius Blaine) and withdrawn Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner) get thrown in detention. While sorting through old magazines in the basement, they discover an old video game console. On plugging it into the TV, the group gets sucked into the video game, where they take on the form of the avatars they’ve chosen.

Spencer becomes the muscle-bound adventurer archaeologist Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Bethany becomes rotund cartographer Dr. Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black), Fridge becomes diminutive zoologist and weapons carrier Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), and Martha becomes the sexy badass Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). Capitalising on each of their characters’ special abilities, the group must work together to return the sacred Jaguar’s Eye gem to a large jaguar statue in the jungle. Along the way, they team up with pilot Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough (Nick Jonas) and face off against the villainous John Hardin Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), whose possession of the gem allows him to wield control over the various fearsome creatures that call Jumanji home.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a sequel to the 1995 film Jumanji, which was in turn based on the children’s book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. While this film might feel symptomatic of Hollywood’s rabid desire to capitalise on anything with even a shred of name recognition, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a lot better than the half-baked cash grab we feared it might be.

While the first film and its source material centred on an enchanted board game, Welcome to the Jungle transforms said board game into a video game. The filmmakers do a fine job of working video game mechanics into the film without it seeming tedious. Concepts like limited lives, each avatar’s specific strengths and weaknesses, interacting with NPCs (non-player characters) and cut scenes are all integrated into the movie in amusing ways. The linear ‘quest’ structure helps keep things from getting too complicated.

The action sequences are not especially memorable, but the in-game world feels immersive and well-realised. Surprisingly, the set-pieces do not feel overly synthetic – while there’s clearly a lot of computer-generated imagery being used, it still feels like the characters are in peril. A scene in which a low-flying helicopter must escape a stampeding crash of rhinos is exhilarating. The fact that all this is taking place within a game does not diminish the stakes as much as this reviewer thought it might. Things are kept consistently silly, but never obnoxiously so.

The film’s casting is largely effective, and the actors get the opportunity to both play to and against type, since the main cast is playing two characters each: the in-game avatars, and the people in the real-world inhabiting said avatars.

Everyone looks like they’re having a lot of fun. Johnson gets to play the larger-than-life action hero, while commenting on how much he looks like a larger-than-life action hero, while also channelling Spencer’s neuroses and insecurities. When he first appears on screen, the camera pans up, past Johnson’s bulging bicep, and up to his face – upon which he immediately arches that People’s Eyebrow.

This reviewer has made no secret of not being a big Kevin Hart fan, given that his onscreen persona is often shrill and manic. Hart is bearable here, mostly because he’s working off the other cast members.

Gillan is superb, and proves she fully deserves to be an A-list leading lady in plenty more big films. Her performance blends athleticism, awkward charm and humour to excellent effect. The character’s midriff-baring costume was much ballyhooed, but it works as a pastiche of video game heroines like Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft. Gillan gets several moments of physical comedy which are a sheer joy to behold.

Of the four leads, Black handily steals the show. His affectation of spoilt ditzy teen girl mannerisms is so spot-on, completely selling the idea that the Shelly character is being ‘piloted’ by Bethany. It’s full-tilt silliness that Black visibly dedicates himself to.

Jonas is probably the film’s weak link. Each of the in-game characters are meant to be slightly exaggerated archetypes, and it seems like Seaplane was intended to be a cross between Tom Cruise’s Maverick character from Top Gun and the aviator Launchpad McQuack from the DuckTales cartoon. Jonas just doesn’t have the swagger or the innate charm to make it work.

Cannavale’s villainous Van Pelt is given a striking gimmick that’s just unsettling enough, but the character isn’t onscreen enough to make too much of an impact.

Barring a few too many inappropriate innuendos, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is serviceable family adventure fare. It does what it says on the tin, and occasionally rises above that because its cast seems admirably into it. There are several respectful nods to its predecessor, and anyone fearing this would ‘ruin their childhood’ can rest easy, because it’s not bad at all.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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