Tuesday’s Reviews – Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

 It’s been 22 years since Jumanji, the film directed by Joe Johnston and based on Chris Van Allsburg’s book, was released. That film was groundbreaking in the 90s for its use of CGI and has become a much loved classic thanks to Robin Williams’ lead role. The original book isn’t exactly crammed with material to adapt but there was so much potential with the concept of a board game that came to life. I can’t remember how many times I’ve watched the original film at this point but it always makes me feel like a kid again. I know it’s meant to be a kind of scary situation but I’ve always wanted to play this fucking game. I don’t care how many monkey’s destroy my kitchen or monsoons fill up my entire house with water. It looks really fun… and incredibly dangerous obviously. For a movie that has it’s fair share of flaws, it’s pretty damn perfect and has remained a classic even though it hasn’t really aged well. So the news that we were getting a new film was worrying. I know Hollywood likes to remake and reboot franchises these days but, surely, nobody would be stupid enough to try and remake the original? I mean Robin Williams made that film what it was so trying to make it without him would be suicide. However, the news that this would be more of a sequel than a remake was enough to get me a bit excited. Dropping the Rock, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan into the jungle? Who wouldn’t want to see that even a little bit? Was I still annoyed that they were squeezing as much cash out of the original film as possible? Was I still worried that it was going to be a terrible mess? Was I concerned to see Karen Gillan dressed like Lara Croft despite it being 2017? Yes, yes, and hells yes! Did I care enough to not see it? Nah.

There remained a big question over how a film like Jumanji would fit into a world where kids are hardly lining up to play board games anymore. There is a great nostalgic naivety in the original surrounding the scenes where the young people get super excited by the prospect of a new board game. Thankfully, before the film gets going we have an introductory scene set in 1996 that sees the game magically transform itself into a video game cartridge. Obviously this is much more appealing to the 90s teenager and he quickly finds himself dragged into the game. Cut to 20 years later, our 4 main characters find the game hidden away in their school’s basement and, during a particularly dull detention, decide to give this retro form of entertainment a go. Unsurprisingly, they end up in the game and transformed into their chosen characters. The narrative is much the same as the original where the gang must finish the game in order to get back to their normal lives. The only problem is, they are being chased by the evil Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) who wants to stop them from finishing the game.

As with all video games, it gives the teenagers the chance to be the opposite to their real world personalities. Here, the frightened nerd (Alex Wolff) becomes brave explore Dr Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) ; popular football player Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) winds up half his size but with great knowledge as zoologist , Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart); the bitchy outsider (Morgan Turner’s Martha) becomes the deadly but sexy Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan); and the social media queen (Madison Iseman) ends up in the overweight body of Dr Shelly Oberon (Jack Black). This switch-up allows these familiar faces to play against type and play up the stereotypes of their teenage counterparts. It’s silly, yes, but see Dwayne Johnson screaming at the sight of a squirrel will never not be funny.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle isn’t anywhere near to being the terrible film we all feared it might be. It’s not exactly the fun and exciting ride that the first one was but there is plenty to enjoy. The laughs don’t quite come thick and fast but there are plenty of tiny giggles to be found. The main foursome work really well together and adapt to their roles really well. The Rock plays the role of scared teenager geek incredibly sweetly and Jack Black is subtly wonderful as he gets to grips with playing a teenage selfie queen. The moments when this group come together and argue amongst themselves are the best scenes and it’s almost a shame that the video game narrative has to drive them into more action sequences. It’s also a shame that they, inevitably, have to meet up with their 90s co-player because he doesn’t quite gel with the rest. He’s a bit of a lead weight who doesn’t have the comedy chops to fit in easily. Still, it’s not something that causes much upheaval.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is an entertaining and enjoyable film. It briefly references the first film but it doesn’t rely too heavily on it. This isn’t a film that can only be enjoyed by people who have seen the first film but it will enhance the experience. Yes, the narrative is incredibly similar but that’s to be expected. It’s also quite obvious from the outset what’s going to happen but you like the characters so much that the ending ends up being sweet rather than sickly. This was never going to be the funniest or the greatest thing to come out but, at this time of year, you just want something easy and silly. Do I still think it was a unnecessary sequel? Yeah, but it has been 22 years. This sequel might not have the staying power of the original but there is definitely enough here to make it a watchable film.

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