Movie Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

JumanjiThe 1995 film Jumanji holds a special place in the heart of many a millennial who grew up on the Robin Williams classic. So, when a sequel/reboot was announced, expectations were rightfully quizzical.

Did we really need another Jumanji movie? Apparently yes– and the biggest surprise of all is how much fun Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle manages to be while also giving a quick, subtle nod to its roots. However, don’t be fooled into thinking this is another kid-friendly movie. It was apparently written to the level of 13 year olds, shoving in as many dick jokes as possible into a PG-13 film. Parents should likely consider the maturity of younger children before bringing the whole family– but there’s also Coco out there if you’re looking for traditional family-friendly entertainment.

A group of high school students find themselves in detention, stumble on to a video game called Jumanji and find themselves stuck inside the game unless they can manage to defeat it. It’s sort of a Breakfast Club meets Tron, with the kids stuck in an Indiana-Jones-type jungle adventure full of the most over-the-top and ridiculous action you can imagine. Apparently all the bad guys in this jungle ride a motorbike and use machine guns.

In lesser hands, this might not have worked, but somehow this cast’s audacity and charm make this a surprisingly fun movie– as long as you don’t think about it too much.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart reunite and prove themselves a sort of post-modern Bing Crosby and Bob Hope (minus the songs). Karen Gillan stretches even more here to reinforce her bonafides as a blockbuster action star with some stellar acting and even more impressive stunt work. But it’s Jack Black who steals the show, playing his role as the popular girl stereotype to its limits.

These four do incredibly well with one another. They have real chemistry, especially Hart and Johnson. The jokes are mostly hits, and there’s a lot of them. But most of them rely on the conceit that The Rock is the nerd, Hart is the jock, Gillan the awkward girl, Black the mean girl, and that does get stretched. However, I could watch Gillan awkwardly flirt with guards and then kick their asses with martial arts all day.

The camera is also an equal-opportunity objectifier in this case, as both Gillan and Johnson are subjected to multiple cheesecake shots of their chests, arms, and other sexy bits. The film also makes a point of playing up Hart and Johnson’s height difference and Black’s more rubenesque physique for laughs. It’s all done so over-the-top and knowingly, though, that it’s fairly clear this is a satire of action movie (and video game) tropes.

However, the film’s opening exposition means we spend a decent amount of time in the real world before the film gets going, and it feels like we spend both too much time with the boring versions of these characters but also not enough to truly develop them into anything more than stereotypes.

Speaking of exposition and plot devices, upon arriving in the video game, our heroes almost immediately encounter a computer NPC (non-player character) played by Rhys Darby who is there to explain the game. It’s essentially a giant exposition dump, and with almost anyone else it might wear thin, but Darby proves himself entertaining as always.

The biggest problem with this version is its slang, mentions of social media, and other things are going to horribly date the movie. Upon meeting Nick Jonas within the video game, our heroes immediately sense something is strange about him by the way he talks. I was a teenager in the 90’s. I don’t remember anyone actually talking like that. This is likely the same for our main cast. Again, they’re stereotypes played for laughs. Oscarbait this is not. But it is otherwise really funny, and the action and pacing keep things moving along.

One black hole of charisma is whenever Bobby Cannavale shows up as the video game’s villain. He’s supposed to be awful, but he’s mostly just unwatchable and every time it cuts to him threatening his minions the film grinds to a halt. This is a waste for the same guy who (rightfully) won multiple acting awards for things like The Station Agent and Will and Grace. I want that Bobby Cannavale back, and I want him in a better role than this.

But other than that, this is a fun movie if you’re looking for a little respite from the stresses of the holidays, and if you show up to the movie theater and can’t get into The Last Jedi or aren’t in the mood for a more challenging film like The Shape of Water, this is a decent consolation prize as long as you can handle all the dick jokes. Seriously, so. many. penis jokes.

Eagle-eyed-viewers can also be on the lookout for a tribute to Robin Williams, whose character Allan Partridge, was stuck in the Jumanji board game for decades. A note carved into a the place Jonas makes his home tells us “Allan Partridge Was Here.” This film can’t replace the heart the Williams brought to the original, but this was a nice nod in what is otherwise a breakneck pace that moves from action setpiece to action setpiece.

One might consider this a successful adaptation of a video game into a movie– an incredibly rare feat for Hollywood. Other would-be adapters should take note that the comedic tone and satire of video game tropes work because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. And neither should we.

3.5 out of 5 

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