Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

jumanji-2017-rev

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle  (2017)    Columbia/Action-Adventure-Comedy    RT: 119 minutes    Rated PG-13 (adventure action, suggestive content, some language)    Director: Jake Kasdan    Screenplay: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner    Music: Henry Jackman    Cinematography: Gyula Pados    Release date: December 20, 2017 (US)    Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Nick Jonas, Alex Wolff, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner, Bobby Cannavale, Rhys Darby, Marc Evan Jackson.

 

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 I find it difficult to be too hard on a movie as good-natured and eager to please as Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, a quasi-sequel to the hit 1995 comedy-adventure starring the late Robin Williams and a whole host of CGI animals. Although it’s been two decades, I think it’s safe to assume everybody knows it’s about a magical board game that literally sucks its players into the action. It can also unleash all sorts of jungle-related chaos into the real world. Board games were already on their way out in the mid-90s. Kids were more into video games, something the movie acknowledges in its opening scenes.

 The prologue takes place in 1996 with a man discovering the Jumanji game half-buried on a beach, exactly where it was when the previous movie ended. He brings it home to his teenage metal-head son who dismisses it until it transforms into a video game cartridge. When he plays it, he gets sucked into the world of Jumanji.

jumanji 2017 poster Jump ahead twenty years to an average high school where four students are placed in detention. They’re a veritable Breakfast Club (well, four-fifths anyway) these kids. We have a nerd, gamer Spencer (Wolff, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2); a jock, football player Fridge (Blain, When the Game Stands Tall); a princess, social media-obsessed Bethany (Iseman, Tales of Halloween) and a basket case, anti-social Martha (Turner, Wonderstruck). They’re ordered to clean the basement where one of them discovers an ancient video game console with the Jumanji cartridge in it. How Alex’s console ended up in the school basement is never explained. They decide to play the game and get sucked in.

 When they materialize in the world of Jumanji, it’s in the form of the avatars they selected. Spencer becomes a muscular explorer/hero named Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Johnson, the Fast & Furious movies). Fridge becomes diminutive zoologist Moose Finbar (Hart, the Ride Along movies). Martha is now a sexy, kick-ass fighter named Ruby Roundhouse (Gillan, the Guardians of the Galaxy movies). Poor Bethany is now a pudgy, middle-aged cartographer named Professor Sheldon Oberon (Black, School of Rock). They make look different but they still possess their own personality traits. Bravestone/Spencer is nervous and afraid. Ruby/Martha lacks self-confidence. Sheldon/Bethany is freaking out over not having her iPhone.

 That’s the scenario of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. The plot (or object of the game) is no big deal. The players have to make it through all the levels, each one more difficult than the last, and return a gem called the “Jaguar’s Eye” to its rightful place on an enormous statue of a jaguar. The gem allows the holder to manipulate all the animals in Jumanji which is why bad guy John Van Pelt (Cannavale, Blue Jasmine) stole it in the first place and why he’s trying to get it back from our heroes. So it is that they face challenges like charging CGI animals, gun-toting mercenaries on motorcycles and treacherous jungle terrain. Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Because it’s a video game, they each have three lives. This means that each character dies at least once during their adventure. Some of the deaths (e.g. death by pound cake) are funny.

 For the most part, I enjoyed Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. It has its flaws. The villain is poorly written. Cannavale, a talented actor, is given little to do other than glower at the heroes and occasionally try to kill them. He sleepwalks through the role. It runs a bit too long; it could have used some tighter editing. The pacing is off too. There are, however, several good points. The CGI effects are pretty good and used sparingly. Director Jake Kasdan, son of Raiders of the Lost Ark co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, has the good sense not to bombard the audience with a lot of overbearing effects that would just obfuscate the movie. The action scenes are well-handled. There’s a fair amount of it as well.

 For me, the factor that raises Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle to the three-star level is the cast. Not only do they work extremely well together, they each turn in funny individual performances. The script plays to each actor’s unique strengths. I love that Johnson is able to poke fun at his own image by incorporating his human player’s character traits (i.e. fear and lack of confidence). Hart does his usual schtick while trying to get used to his smaller stature. Gillan is great (and looks smoking HOT!) as Ruby, a total bad ass who can take down armies yet can’t talk to guys. Top honors go to Black who’s hilarious playing a teen girl in a middle-aged man’s body. He has one of the best bits in the movie when he tries to teach Ruby/Martha the art of being sexy. There’s also a funny scene involving Bethany being impressed with how easy it is for a man to urinate. The chemistry between the actors, especially Johnson and Hart who previously worked together in the lame action-comedy Central Intelligence, is undeniable. It’s the best part of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

 To answer a question I’m sure many have, Robin Williams’ character is mentioned at least once in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. The events of the first movie do NOT play a crucial role in this second flick. You don’t really need to see the first one, some familiarity will do. This new movie is an amusing, agreeable diversion, nothing more. Think Indiana Jones meets The Breakfast Club. It’s a decent alternative if The Last Jedi is sold out. Although PG-13 (for some language and bathroom humor), boys ages 8 to 12 should get a kick out of it. It’s a nice choice for a weekend matinee.

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