Reboots, sequels, prequels, etc. generally have a track record of being either really good or really bad, there is rarely a middle ground. Making such a movie from an established property is a big gamble and most often is used as a cash grab instead of an investing way to tell a story. While Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is most certainly a “cash grab”, it surprisingly works from an entertainment standpoint delivering all the humor and action you would want out of a movie. This is a sequel to the original Jumanji that does indeed find a middle ground and uses interesting methodology in its execution. While there are some glaring flaws, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a non-stop joyride that offers great fun this holiday season.
When four high schoolers find themselves in detention cleaning up a storage unit, they happen upon an old video game called Jumanji. They begin to play and find themselves sucked into the world as the avatars they chose. Scrawny and frightened Spencer becomes Dwayne Johnson, buff and strong Fridge becomes Kevin Hart, shy but fierce Martha becomes Karen Gillan and beautiful but self-obsessed Bethany becomes Jack Black. The four must then band together to complete the game’s mission to return home back to their normal lives.
What makes this movie work so well is the actors that audiences have been familiar with are, for the most part, playing against their normal personas. Dwayne Johnson is scared of everything but also embodies a cliche nerdy side that is fun to watch. He is fascinated with his huge biceps and relishes in the ability that his character, Spencer, is now super strong. Jack Black is also another standout playing a teenage girl who is obsessed with boys and her phone. Putting a self-obsessed teen girl in a man’s body plays for some great albeit predictable humorous moments. But even then, there is a lesson she learns in this adventure and it is interesting to watch.
Kevin Hart essentially plays as himself, making jokes about his height and yelling a lot but it is still entertaining to watch especially in his dynamic with Dwayne Johnson. Karen Gillan is not really playing against her persona as far as I could tell, but her character is normally shy and when she has to be more outgoing it is hilarious but also rewarding to watch.
It is the performances of these core group of characters that carry the movie. With each one playing against their normal appearance it is a true treat to watch and there will be great laughs for families to enjoy. With that being said, you can see the humor as a bit predictable and cliche with some jokes not landing the way they are supposed to. But overall it is an enjoyable time.
The plot is simple, the four protagonists must navigate through different video game levels to complete the game and get home. With that, there is not much depth or interesting moments that happen from a story perspective. Anything that the movie thinks is a twist or interesting development can be seen from a mile away. The objectives they have to do are fun to watch and play just how a normal video game would and that is where the movie has more of its entertainment.
The characters are stuck in the video game, so the setting they experience operates similar to a normal video game. There are NPC (non-player characters) who repeat the same things over and over again, strengths and weaknesses for each of the players, and music that signals the beginning and ending of the levels. It is clever to how they incorporated the modern elements of typical video games into the movie. There are definitely some things that could have been taken advantage of more, but for the most part it just adds creativity and fun to the movie.
The main problem the movie has is that it tries too hard sometimes. Instead of just relishing in the zany premise and being ridiculous, there are also moments where there is forced relationships between characters. It can be funny, but it’s also entirely cliched offering nothing interesting or worth rooting for. When these moments do happen, it is just cringe-worthy to watch rather than humorous or endearing as the filmmakers probably intended.
The film also has a villain that is entirely one-dimensional and not needed for the plot. The movie doesn’t need to have an overarching bad guy to incite conflict for the protagonists, the video game could have been programmed to do that itself. The bad guy just comes across as weird and too flashy for my taste. Instead of a villain, it would have been more worth their while to invest in the video game setting and taking full advantage of that.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a film that should not have worked, and was one that I was expecting to bomb. Instead, I had a blast seeing some of Hollywood’s famous actors playing against their personas and having fun with it. The video game premise definitely helps the movie even when it is not taken to full advantage, and offers some hilarious moments. Unfortunately, the movie is trying too hard at times instead of putting all hands on deck in the weirdness that it embraces for most of the movie, but there is a tiny bit of heart that make this an enjoyable time. If you are looking for a great “turn your brain off” movie, or just wanting to have some fun at the theaters then Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is definitely one you want to check out.