Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

12 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

It’s the movie that nobody expected to like and yet totally surprised them! (And seeing as how it was the fifth highest-grossing film of 2017, I’m assuming audiences originally went to see it to hate on it?…And then they got so surprised they told their friends to see it too?) “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is a quasi-sequel to the 1995 film “Jumanji,” based on the children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. In the book and the ’95 movie (starring the late Robin Williams), a mystical board game unleashed an array of ruthless, unearthly jungle animals onto a small town to wreak havoc.

The players of the game had to continue until they finished so that all could return to normal, and in the meantime, they had to run from a stampede of rhinos & elephants and fend off gigantic mosquitoes & spiders, a man-eating flower pod, and even horrific CGI monkeys, among others. The fun of the movie was discovering what could appear next for the characters to defend themselves against (and having a likable Robin Williams guide the audience through the madness added onto the fun).

And now, we have “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” in which the evil game is given an upgrade. Not only does it transform from board to video, but it also sucks players into the game for them to play in the otherworldly jungle. It also might be a little tamer, considering the scarier creatures of the ’95 movie are nowhere to be found here. (But there’s still a ruthless villain and some vicious hippos, rhinos, and other jungle animals to fight off.) That’s because this is more of a lighthearted adventure film whereas the first movie was more like a horror film disguised as a family-adventure. It’s fun, funny, playful, and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” from director Jake Kasdan, has more in common with “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” than “Jumanji” (funnily enough, both “Honey” and “Jumanji” shared the same director, Joe Johnston), with four kids braving a treacherous jungle in order to find their way back home and learning something about themselves in the process. In this case, our trekking young heroes are nerdy Spencer, gigantic jock Fridge, stuck-up popular girl Bethany, and shy Martha. During a day of detention together, they come across the Jumanji game console and decide to play it. Big mistake…

Suddenly, they’re transported into the game and not played by young actors Alex Wolff, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, and Morgan Turner anymore. Instead, they’re switched into the bodies of their video-game avatars—Spencer is now dashing, strong Dwayne Johnson; tall Fridge is now short Kevin Hart; Martha is now tall, striking Lara Croft-like Karen Gillan (complete with tiny top & shorts not fit for a jungle trek); and Bethany is now…Jack Black (uh-oh!). This is where the movie really shines, as these popular actors poke fun at their images. It’s a lot of fun watching Johnson play a scrawny teen trapped in a giant muscular body and taking note of his physical appearance, and it’s especially fun watching Jack Black play a self-absorbed mean-girl trapped in the body of “an overweight middle-aged man” to her absolute horror. The gimmick is they get to play opposite their usual personalities, and it doesn’t wear out its welcome.

Our heroes have to go along the game’s journey through a world they didn’t make, while adjusting to new sets of skills and fending off the monstrous jungle obstacles, in order to finish the game and return home. Another fun element of the film is the video-game logic that they often come across, such as non-player characters that repeat programmed responses, cut-scenes that reveal backstory, and ominous music that lets them know trouble is afoot (in this case, it’s the sinister drumming sounds that Jumanji is famous for).

Something I didn’t quite understand, though, is why we often cut back to the game’s villain, Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), in scenes that could have easily been treated like cut-scenes. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if our heroes didn’t know what to do next and then they found themselves observing another cut-scene in which Van Pelt unintentionally reveals an answer to a clue, and then they realize “Oh yeah we should try that”? Cannavale is wasted in the role anyway, without much juicy material to handle, but it would’ve helped fix what I saw as an annoying plot hole.

Before the film’s release, people were worried that this movie would disrespect the memory of Robin Williams by “rebooting” the film. (Those same people also forget that the original movie was based on another source material, so another adaptation isn’t completely hard to understand.) Thankfully, they were relaxed when they realized it wasn’t so much a “reboot” as a “sequel,” which becomes clear as the main characters come across the old dwelling place of the Robin Williams character. The new inhabitant (played by Nick Jonas) states, “It’s his place; I’m just living in it.” It’s the little things that fix bigger things.

Overall, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is a lot of fun. And much of the fun comes from watching these four actors play these roles with the greatest of ease. Dwayne Johnson is at his least Dwayne Johnson-est, Kevin Hart has his share of great Kevin Hart freakout moments (such as when he exclaims he doesn’t have the “top two feet of [his] body,” Karen Gillan gets to play kick-ass female action hero perfectly (and also partakes in a very funny scene in which she tries “flirting”), and Jack Black, in a role that easily could’ve terribly wrong, is hilarious and even surprisingly brilliant in a gender-swapping role. The movie is two hours long, but I could easily watch these four for another two hours. Guess that’s all the more reason to see the movie again.

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One Response to “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)”

  1. Wammyspeaks April 14, 2018 at 5:00 am #

    I still have not seen that movie yet smh

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