Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle | Jake Kasdan | December 25, 2017
Part remake and sequel, I don’t quite know if we really needed Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle. Its relation to the Robin Williams-starring original isn’t quite clear as it plays as a remake, but there is a slight nod to Williams’ character Alan Parrish in this 2017 version to hint that this at least takes place in the same universe.
But it’s here and, while the initial idea of a Jumanji remake with the game being a video game instead of a board game rubbed people the wrong way, one has to at least give the writing team of Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, and Jeff Pinkner some credit of not just sticking to the formula of the first movie and giving it a sleek modern update.
Although this version does kick things off in a similar fashion to the original, beginning with a flashback to 1996 where a young kid named Alex (Nick Jonas) gets sucked into this strange video game named Jumanji. Cut to present day and we meet four vastly different teenagers who are forced to spend detention together ala The Breakfast Club.
You got the nerdy worrywart Spencer (Alex Wolff), football star Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), the pretty popular girl Bethany (Madison Iseman), and the smart and shy girl Martha (Morgan Turner). They’re assigned by Principal Bentley (Marc Evan Jackson) to spend the afternoon cleaning up the school’s basement which is full of old magazines so it can be turned into a computer lab, symbolic of clearing out old physical media for the technology of today.
While cleaning, they stumble upon an old video game console with Jumanji loaded and ready to play and what do you know, they’re sucked into the world and realize that shit just got real. But they aren’t themselves; they inhabit the characters of the game. Spencer is actually the strong and bold Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Fridge shrinks in stature as the tiny Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), Bethany turns into a pudgy middle-aged Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black), and Martha becomes Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillian), a Lara Croft-esque adventurer. They are forced to figure out how exactly the game works and beat it before they run out of lives and risk dying in both the game and real life.
The initial set-up and introduction to the video game are handled with a surprising amount of deft energy and wit that caught me by surprise. Sure, the set-up and real-life high school characters aren’t new or written in an original way, but director Jake Kasdan handles it all well enough that it’s hard not to have fun with this concept. But it seems like the four-person writing team had this initial idea and didn’t quite know where else to take it as the film drags towards the middle and loses its fresh energy as it winds down, lagging along the way.
As usual, Dwayne Johnson is likable and all kinds of charismatic in the role and Kevin Hart is, well, playing Kevin Hart. Karen Gillian is having fun in a big role where you can finally tell it’s her (she plays the makeup-heavy Nebula in the Guardians Of The Galaxy series), Nick Jonas is fine as Alex, and Bobby Cannavale is chewing the scenery as the over-the-top video game villain Van Pelt. But it’s Jack Black’s performance channeling a dramatic phone-addicted teenage girl that stole the show.
It seems that many of us are remembering the original Jumanji through our younger selves. While not a perfect movie by any means, it charmed so many of us as kids because of the warm and heartfelt performance from Robin Williams. While there are some laughs and likable characters to be found in Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, none of them even come close to scratching the surface of what Williams did. The main issue is you’re really split between the real-life characters and their video game counterparts. The real-life characters just aren’t that interesting or anything we haven’t seen before.
Of course, the idea is that these are people who find parts of themselves in this video game that they’re either missing or wish they could be. But these emotional moments felt forced and ultimately fell flat, leaving you with a decent comedy that is certainly better than most skeptics would have guessed when it was greenlit, but it won’t be as revered as the original one was, no matter how many butts that any vehicle starring Johnson and Hart will put in seats over a holiday weekend, with a sequel inevitably on the way.