Review of 'Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle'

jumanji_welcome_to_the_jungle.jpg I was a bit sceptical when I learned of this remake of the classic 1995 Jumanji starring Robin Williams. A new version staring the Rock (Dwayne Johnson), are you serious? I really enjoyed the original film but it is a much darker film than “Welcome to the Jungle”…

A group of four teenage misfits are stuck in school detention: Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff), a geek who has been caught doing homework for now his former best friend, the aggressive Anthony “Fridge” Johnson (Ser'Darius Blain), the beautiful but somewhat dim Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman) caught talking on her phone during a quiz, and socially inept Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner) in detention for not participating in gym class. Tasked with cleaning out a storage locker they find an old video game “Jumanji”. Intrigued, the four join the video game only to find themselves sucked into a mysterious jungle where they have taken on the personas of the characters they chose when starting the game: The geek, Spencer is now the muscular archaeologist Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson, aka the “Rock” in his WWF days), Fridge finds himself as the wimpy zoologist Franklin “Moose” Finbar (Kevin Hart) who is tasked with carrying Smolder's weapons, Martha is adventurer Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), “killer of men” while in another humorous twist Bethany is cartographer Dr. Shelly Oberon (Jack Black) an older, short, geeky guy with glasses. Helped by in-game guide Nigel (Rhys Darby) they quickly realize they need to pass through the various levels of the game and work together if they want to return to the real world…without losing all three of their in-game lives.

This is all a bit of fun starting with the long-running gag of the four teenagers being assigned to game players so different from their real selves but it is this conceit that reveals their true personality and helps them, sigh, “come of age”. Yes, that's right, it is yet another “coming of age” film but don't let that stop you from watching, this is a good bit of fun with the four so obviously out of their depth bumbling through the game despite their ineptitude. “Welcome to the Jungle” is played for laughs while the original was decidedly more serious though no less deadly. Even here there is an undercurrent of menace and deadly consequence.

The adult cast when in the game are absolutely wonderful and you can sense they are not taking themselves at all seriously. The Rock is great as the physically awkward Spencer trying to figure out how to use the massive muscular body he has been given but it is Jack Black as the “valley girl” Bethany that is laugh out loud funny. Similarly convincing performances by Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan (who many may remember as Amy Pond from Dr Who) really add to the charm and fun of the film. The already unsure of themselves teenagers are even more out their depth inhabiting these dramatically different bodies and it this double-whammy of awkwardness that really comes out in the convincing performances of the adult cast. There is a slight whiff of sexism in the characters but it is quite good natured and never taken too seriously.

The special effects, as you might expect are very well done indeed with a lot of care gone into ensuring the game has the feel of a video game complete with one dimensional game characters, “lives” for each player which, when lost, result in the player dropping back into the game from the sky, and the somewhat murkier “levels” that they must pass through to proceed. While there is an attempt to make it very much like a jungle the creatures they encounter are, of course, very much on the fantastic side (and very aggressive), of course adding to the tension and feeling of peril.

Great fun, looks great and quite funny. I did not think I would like it but I was pleasantly surprised.

Rating: “I have absolutely no complaints”

Review Date: 2021-05-15

Directed by: Jake Kasdan

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Year: 2017

Length: 119 minutes

Genre: Fantasy

Other reviewed films by Jake Kasdan: