TL;DR – This film is an hour and a half of pure fun, and probably the first video game film to work in a very long time, and some of the best casting I have seen in a while
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
So to be honest right from the start this was a bit of a surprise. It has not been a good year for remakes in 2017, for example, The Mummy (see review) or the Ghost in the Shell (see review) all fell a bit flat on release. Add to this, it has been over twenty years since the first film, and all the information in the lead up to its release did not display Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle in a flattering light at all. Indeed, it felt like this was going to be another case of reheating an old franchise rather than trying to do something new, and we are getting a bit tired of this. However, none of this came to pass, instead what we got was a fun romp through the jungle, with superb casting, and sense of knowing exactly what it wanted to do and succeeding in it.
So to set the scene, it is 1996 and the Jumanji board game is dug up on a beach by a father on his morning run, and he decides to give it to his son. However, it is the 1990s and his son is not interested in board games because he has his Playstation, #BoardGamesAreFunSoDealWithIt, so overnight Jumanji transforms itself into a video game and ensnares its next victim. Flash forward to today and lovable band of ragtag teenagers Spencer (Alex Wolff), Bethany (Madison Iseman), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), and Martha (Morgan Turner) all find themselves in detention for different reasons. Forced to clean out a very old classroom they find the now old Jumanji game, and since anything is better than de-stapling old magazine they plug it in and load it up only to find themselves sucked into the game as drum echo around.
Now for me, I quite liked the original film, but as a child of the 1990s I probably enjoyed the animated series a bit more, so I was totally on board with the jump into the game, instead of the game coming into the real world. I also really liked that the writers took the time to show how the concept of Jumanji was updated in-universe, which was a nice touch. For me, the film really takes off the moment they land in Jumanji and you get the combination of video game mechanics, and some of the best casting this year. For you see at the start of the film all the teenagers had very stereotypical issues, well combine those with the avatars that they picked and you get some comedy gold. So the nerdy boy with a fear of germs becomes Dr Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) who has muscles on muscles and can smoulder on command. The football jock becomes Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart) who has weaknesses in speed and strength, and only strength is that he is a weapons valet for everyone else. The shy more academically inclined girl becomes Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) a dance fighter who is wearing an outfit probably not suited for a jungle environment. Finally, the cheerleader who spends her time stuck to her phone becomes Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black) a man in his 40s. Now, I expected these combinations would wear out there welcomes really quickly with predictable jokes but it just does not happen. This is because everyone is perfectly cast and is also willing to through themselves into the roles.
I think this might be my favourite performance from Dwayne Johnson so far because they let him show off his range, and he can do insecure just as well as class one smoulder. Also, I have to give props to Jack Black, because this is a role that very easily could have fallen into caricature or worse, but he walks that line by being really sincere. All of this means that just in general this film more than any film I have seen in a while is just fun, from start to end. It also allows you to get away with jokes I don’t think you would have been able to do in any other setting. There was at least one joke where I heard a number of the younger members of the audience turn to ask why their parents were laughing and it was quite amusing. The film also fills itself with these great supporting character moments, like Marc Evan Jackson appearing as the school principal or Rhys Darby popping up as Nigel the guide in Jumanji. It was also good to see Bobby Cannavale just swing for the fences in his role as the main villain Van Pelt, it really fit the tone of the film. I will say if there is part of the cast that didn’t work as well it would be Nick Jonas character, but I feel that was more to do with him not getting enough screen time to define his character compared to the rest of the cast, than his acting.
Another thing that is really interesting in the film is how it works as a video game movie, something that Hollywood has a real problem figuring out. For years the industry has tried to create a good adaptation of a video game, and nearly universally they are all terrible, indeed we saw them try it again this year with Assassin’s Creed (see review). However, like Wreck-It Ralph, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle takes the route of using the iconography and mechanics of video games, without trying to adapt an existing story and it works. If you are familiar with video game mechanics and tropes you will get all the references before they get one of the characters to explain it to those who might not be familiar. Indeed, a good example comes right at the start when they were talking to Nigel (Rhys Darby) and I was listening in and then it clicked “wait is he an NPC?” yep he was. Each aspect that is introduced shows that the writers actually understand what video games are and how they work rather than only understanding them as something those kids are into. Also, yes Sony, I know you have to vertical integrate, so I’ll give you your Uncharted Easter egg, but The Last Guardian come on you can do better than that.
On the production side of things everything worked quite well, I liked how it seamlessly flowed from location shots, to sets, to visual effects. Indeed, they made really good use of the Hawaii countryside to give the world of Jumanji the kind of texture it needed. When it came to the visual effects, I liked the CGI creation of the animals, and in general, the animated visual effects have a style to them that works within the context of the film. I will say that there was at least one case of a CGI Karen Gillian that was quite noticeable and needed a little more work, but issues like these were only minor in the grand scheme of things. On the whole, I did like the musical score, it is triumphant when it needs to be, pulsating when it needs to be, dance-fighty when it needs to be, but there was one trumpet cue they kept using and it did start to grate on me towards the end.
In the end, do we recommend Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle? Of course, we do. It is just a fun movie from start to finish, it knows what it wants to be and it achieves that wonderfully. The jokes are funny, the cast is amazing, and the story is solid, one of the best family action-adventure films I have seen in a long time.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Directed by – Jake Kasdan
Story by – Chris McKenna
Screenplay by – Jake Kasdan, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg & Jeff Pinkner
Based on – Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
Music by – Henry Jackman
Cinematography by – Gyula Pados
Edited by – Mark Helfrich & Steve Edwards
Starring – Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale, Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Ser’Darius Blain, Morgan Turner, Rhys Darby, Marc Evan Jackson, Tim Matheson, Colin Hanks, Missi Pyle & Tait Fletcher
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: PG; Germany: 12; New Zealand: PG; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13