Dwayne Johnson flexes his muscles in the sequel/reboot of the Jumanji story
Twenty years after the events of the first film, the infamous board game has evolved into a video game and while cleaning out a school’s basement serving detention, four teenagers find it and get sucked into the same jungle setting that Alan Parrish was trapped in all those years ago. Becoming their avatars inside the game, the team soon discover that the only way to escape is to finish the Jumanji adventure.
When Sony Pictures announced a sequel/reboot of the Jumanji adventure, the news was met with a mixed response. The original Jumanji, starring screen legend, the late Robin Williams, was an exciting thrill ride of jungle mayhem as the ancient board game exposed our world to the magic held within its mystical crystal. As the players rolled the dice, more and more jungle creatures escaped from the game and shattered the peaceful surrounding of suburban America.
The movie established itself as a fan favourite and boasts a cult following in the wake of Robin Williams’ passing. Nevertheless, Sony pressed ahead with the soft reboot/sequel and amassed an all star cast to accept the challenge and venture back into the realm of Jumanji. Boasting the acting talents of Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black and Kevin Hart, Sony set their stall out early and promised to deliver a fresh, action packed take on the property, and for all intents and purposes they almost succeeded.
In recent times, Sony Pictures have demonstrated the knack of unintentionally eroding their established properties with Spider-Man and Ghostbusters amongst their notable failures and with Jumanji, they have at least stemmed the tide. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a fun romp that stays true to concept of the original movie but evolves from its traditional board game format into the medium of console gaming. We practically pick up where we left off in 1996, where the game was discarded and washed up on a beach to be discovered by the next would be player.
In the finest tradition of the original, the discoverer was consumed by the game and trapped within the mystical world of Jumanji, until such time that someone finished the game. Fast forward twenty years, and we arrive in modern suburban America and meet four typical teenagers, all of whom are fully versed in the urban legend of the missing player. For one reason or another, they find themselves in detention, their punishment to clear out one of the schools’ dusty storage compartments, and its there, in one of the many donation boxes they find an old games console. Curiosity leads to gameplay, and soon, they are zapped into the game where they readily become the avatars they chose on the game menu.
Enter Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black and Kevin Hart.
After coming to the realisation, they are stuck in the game, the team swiftly discover a list of certain abilities they can employ to tackle the Jumanji challenge. It is here we discover the backstory, a flashback sequence cleverly disguised as a game video sequence. Along with the team, we discover that Jumanji’s giant jaguar statue has had its all-important emerald crystal stolen. The crystal is the key to Jumanji’s power and must be restored for them to escape the game and set things back to normality.
The team must band together and combine their abilities to survive Jumanji and escape back to the real world…
What follows is a mindless adventure of over-elaborate set pieces, over reliant on cheap sexually charged jokes that will tickle teenagers across the world but will leave the seasoned cinema goer bemoaning its lack of depth. Dwayne Johnson embraces his role as Dr. Smolder Bravestone, but has very little to do beyond flex, glare and punch a few disposable in game minions. Kevin Hart adds another notch to his long line of carboard, forgettable characters with Franklin “Moose” Finbar and offers very little beyond an irritating, token sidekick.
Jack Black on the other hand, has plenty to get his teeth into. His role as Professor Shelly Oberon, is a complete reversal of his real-world alter ego who happens to be a superficial teenage girl, more concerned with her Snapchat status than the events happening around her. With so much to get his teeth into, Black embraces the role and affords us a genuinely funny character who struggles to come to terms with being trapped in a middle aged mans body. His character must face many changes, from coming to terms with being trapped in someone else’s body, to using his penis for the very first time which brings us many funny moments.
But its Karen Gillan, portraying feisty red head, Ruby Roundhouse that comes out on top. Fresh from her role as Nebula, in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, Gillan practically sparkles on the screen and affords us a fun character on a genuine journey. Her real-world counterpart is a stereotypical, socially awkward teenage girl but all that changes when she morphs into the mould of Gillan. The character embarks on a genuine journey of self-discovery, one that offers many moments of true hilarity and when it reaches its conclusion, offers us a gratifying ending.
However, Gillan’s sparkling performance can only paper over the cracks found in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. In fairness, the essence of the original movie can be felt throughout, but it is completely overshadowed by the stereotypical and over-elaborate, wooden characters brought to life by the cast. The characters, both before and throughout the game lack any genuine depth leaving you detached and unwilling to reward them with any real emotional investment. The villain is completely pointless and irrelevant to overall narrative of the movie and only serves to focus our attention away from the definite lack of originality.
Once again, the movie finds itself over reliant on CGI effects when a practical approach, akin to that of the original would have sufficed and offered us a genuine connection with the original. The story is simple and easy to follow, but relies on the typical Hollywood checklist of stereotyping, whilst actively trying to promote the “changing stereotypes” angle. The score, composed by Henry Jackman (Captain America: Civil War, Kong: Skull Island) is fine but lacks any memorable symphonies unlike his predecessor, the late great James Horner.
In short, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a disappointment.
It’s not a terrible movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it cannot shake the influence of a studio that routinely churns out movies without truly understanding how to treat the properties they own. Sadly, it seems destined to secure a reasonable return at the box office before dropping into the bargain bin alongside Ghostbusters (2016) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. I had hoped the great Dwayne Johnson, would have learned lessons from the tedious big screen outing of Baywatch earlier in the year and return to the material that plucked him from the wrestling ring, but with Jumanji, the curse remains intact. Welcome to the Jungle, ends up being a forgettable, yet fun adventure ride that requires very little thinking on our part or any emotional investment in the story.
If you’re a fan of the original, you’ll get a kick out of the tributes paid to the Robin Williams classic, but beyond that, Welcome to the Jungle is a Jumanji movie in name only. Grab your Blu-Ray and enjoy the REAL Jumanji at its best.