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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Movie Review

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) movie poster Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Theatrical Release: December 20, 2017 / Running Time: 119 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Jake Kasdan / Writers: Chris McKenna (screen story & screenplay); Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner (screenplay); Chris Van Allsburg (book)

Cast: Dwayne Johnson (Spencer Gilpin/Dr. Smolder Bravestone), Jack Black (Bethany Walker/Professor Sheldon Oberon), Kevin Hart (Anthony "Fridge" Johnson/Moose Finbar), Karen Gillan (Martha Kaply/Ruby Roundhouse), Nick Jonas (Alex Vreeke/Seaplane McDonough), Bobby Cannavale (John Van Pelt), Rhys Darby (Nigel), Alex Wolff (Spencer Gilpin), Madison Iseman (Bethany Walker), Ser'Darius Blain (Anthony "Fridge" Johnson), Morgan Turner (Martha Kaply), Marc Evan Jackson (Principal Bentley), Maribeth Monroe (Teacher), Missi Pyle (Coach Webb), Mason Gussione (Alex Vreeke), Colin Hanks (Older Alex Vreeke), Tim Matheson (Old Man Vreeke)

 

In a time when brands rule Hollywood, no well-regarded movie is going to be out of bounds for some form of revival. Take Jumanji. It was a standalone adventure based on an early '80s children's picture book released twenty-two years ago and its star died in 2014.
But people know and like Jumanji and after many years of rumors and one sort of sequel (2005's Zathura), a direct sequel finally comes to fruition in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

In the 1995 original, a mystical board game unleashed a variety of mayhem upon those who played it: rhino stampedes, mischievous monkeys, a monsoon, and a 26-year jungle exile for our protagonist Alan Parrish, played in adulthood by the incomparable Robin Williams. Departing from the source text by Polar Express author Chris Van Allsburg which spawned no sequel apart from Zathura, this one opens in 1996 with a teenager finding the drumming wooden board game on a beach. We then jump to the present day to get acquainted with four different teenagers: nerdy gamer Spencer (Alex Wolff); Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), the jock/former best friend whose papers Spencer writes; Instagram selfie-obsessed Bethany (Madison Iseman); and intelligent loner Martha (Morgan Turner).

The four teens get detention, which creates a Breakfast Club dynamic and also has them assigned to destaple old magazines in a basement, where they discover an old Jumanji video game. They pick their characters and press start to play...only to get sucked into the jungle and find themselves in the bodies of the characters they chose. Spencer is now a buff, heroic field guide (Dwayne Johnson). Fridge is a loud-mouthed short guy (Kevin Hart), who counts "cake" among his weaknesses. Martha is a Lara Croft-type adventurer (Karen Gillan). And hot, vain Bethany is now a fat middle-aged cartographer (Jack Black).

In "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle", four teenagers find themselves inside the bodies of adult characters (played by Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, and Dwayne Johnson) in a jungle video game.

That design enables Johnson and Hart to reprise their Central Intelligence odd couple hijinks. It allows Black to act like a teenaged girl and marvel at having a penis with which to urinate. And it allows Gillan to strut around as eye candy in a skimpy outfit that isn't the plot point that Johnson and others implied in response to the minor controversy that swirling around the first film stills released.

The biggest difference from the original movie is that these characters are inside a video game, not merely playing a board game. They can die and the number of lives they have marked on their wrists decreases. In addition, whereas the original explored the concept of wild animals being unleashed on a New Hampshire town and old mansion, this one simply puts our characters in the jungle, where they encounter men on motorcycles and men with guns. The plot requires our four comic heroes to retrieve a crystal that has placed a curse on this land called Jumanji.

Honestly, the obstacles are pretty forgettable this time around. There was a part with snakes and a couple of scenes where Martha has to dance fight to Big Mountain's '90s jam "Baby, I Love Your Way." And more penis jokes than you would expect. But this one is rated PG-13, while its predecessor was PG and decidedly a family film. This sequel aims for more general audience appeal, knowing that kids who grew up with Jumanji are in their late twenties and thirties now and may want to share this with their own kids, but don't need children as an excuse to see this.

Nick Jonas plays a stranded pilot who joins our group of heroes (Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Dwayne Johnson, and Kevin Hart) in the wilds of Jumanji.

There is a reference to Alan Parrish made by Alex (Nick Jonas), a pilot who has been stranded in the jungle far longer than the few weeks he thinks (he's been living in a tree house that Alan built). But for the most part, Welcome to the Jungle isn't interested in its predecessor or paying it homage. That could be the right choice commercially, given how much time has passed between installments and how this probably should stand on its own.
But it does make this less fulfilling and enjoyable than it could have been. What's here in place of the original's material is not inspired or original comedy-adventure. There are no cameos by Kirsten Dunst or David Alan Grier or Bonnie Hunt or Bebe Neuwirth. There is a new Van Pelt villain (a completely wasted Bobby Cannavale), who has bugs crawl out of his face like Men in Black's Edgar.

Dwayne Johnson appears to be one of the most liked movie stars around today, and his movies, which include more franchises inherited from other stars than anyone else, tend to make money. Hart and Black have their fans too. The latter's presence makes this feel a lot like 2015's Goosebumps, which turned a profit and drew better than expected reviews. Welcome to the Jungle seems to be on the same path with advance reviews securing this a favorable Tomatometer score and consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, albeit with a marginally positive average rating.

I wish I could add my voice to the choir of those lightly approving, but perhaps impacted by the surprisingly good early buzz (following a trailer that looked very bad), I found this to be an underwhelming outing, far inferior to the endearing predecessor. While that isn't a huge shock onto itself (and nostalgia is certainly in play, for the original film drew mixed reviews), the fact that this sequel doesn't seem to hold any special regard or interest for the universe (Jumanji as a place? as a video game?) is puzzling at best and disappointing in general. If the people like this, though, expect Sony to grow this franchise, since all their other active ones seem to have run their course and they could really use something to keep up with the competition.

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Reviewed December 19, 2017.



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