It’s clear that we’re officially running out of nostalgia properties to reboot when Hollywood settles on a reboot/sequel to a relatively inconsequential movie like Jumanji. The original film wasn’t terrible, though it found its followers over the years. If the original Jumanji is truly a dearly remembered film from your past, then you may be upset to learn that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is about as far from a faithful sequel as you can get. However, if you’re ok with the new movie just being fun, you’re in for a treat.
This version of Jumanji follows four high school kids who get stuck in detention together one day. Each one is a fairly standard stereotype. The nerd (Alex Wolff) and the jock (Ser’Darius Blain), former friends from grade school, got busted because the former got caught doing the latter’s homework. The outcast (Morgan Turner) made an unintended rude comment to the gym teacher, and the social media princess (Madison Iseman) got busted for using her phone in class. It’s the Breakfast Club, minus the criminal.
While serving their punishment together, they find an old video game system already loaded with a Jumanji video game cartridge, having seemingly evolved itself from the original board game. Upon starting it up, they get sucked into the world of the game, each high school stereotype becomes a very different video game trope. The nerd turns into the muscle-bound hero Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson). The jock becomes the sidekick, Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), the outcast becomes the sexy martial artist Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), and the princess becomes the overweight (male) scientist, Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black). Upon arriving, they’re met by an NPC (Rhys Darby) who spouts pre-rendered expository dialogue that explains they must take the Jewel of Jumanji across the jungle back to its resting place in order to break a curse on the land, all while avoiding the evil John Hardin Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale). Only by beating the game, can they escape it.
What follows is a combination video-game action movie and body swap comedy, and the two different concepts work remarkably well together. This is mostly thanks to a rock solid cast who takes a fairly paint-by-the-numbers plot and infuses it with humor and charisma, which carries the audience through from start to finish. Dwayne Johnson has proven before that he’s the perfect combination of action hero and comedian, and any role where he’s able to show off both sets of skills is worth watching. Karen Gillan pulls off her fight scenes as well, if not better, than Johnson, all while complaining about the impracticality of her Lara Croft-inspired outfit. Kevin Hart’s internal jock may be furious that he’s the sidekick, but he still gets a few moments to shine himself. The highlight, however, may be Jack Black who is shockingly good at playing a 15-year-old girl. The combination is able to be funny without coming across as creepy.
While most movies based on video games reject the mechanics of health bars, extra lives, and level-based progression, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle embraces these very concepts. Each character has various strengths and weaknesses which come into play, just as they clearly would if this was an actual video game.
Of course, the problem with making a plot which is designed to look like it came from a video game is that video game plots are usually pretty lame, and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is no exception. Video games have stories which exist primarily to serve the gameplay, and Jumanji has a story which exists to serve jokes and action sequences. It’s pretty paper thin beyond that. Luckily, those jokes and action sequences are fun, so you won’t really care that the plot barely holds together.
If you haven’t seen the original Jumanji you’ll be fine. However, Welcome to the Jungle does take a moment to nod to the first film’s star, the late Robin Williams, in a way that feels good and will make fans of Williams, and Jumanji, smile.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle isn’t one of the best movies of the year, but it is, without question, one of the most fun movies of the year. The cast is excellent, and they overcome any of the film’s shortcoming through pure force of charisma. This is one video game movie that won’t leave you wishing you’d spent the last two hours playing it, instead.