DIR: Jake Kasdan • WRI: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner • PRO: William Teitler, Matt Tolmach • DOP: Gyula Pados • ED: Steve Edwards, Mark Helfrich • MUS: Henry Jackman • DES: Owen Paterson • CAST: Karen Gillan, Dwayne Johnson, Bobby Cannavale
One can’t help but watch this film and be somewhat reminded of the original and, of course, the late Robin Williams. While this film updates itself from its predecessor, there is still a nod to Williams. His character Alan Parrish is mentioned as previously being trapped within the game; also at the end of the original Jumanji, the board game is found on a beach, which is exactly where this updated Jumanji begins.
We meet four characters: Spencer (the nerd), ‘Fridge’ (the jock), Bethany (the pretty one), and Martha (the shy one), all stereotypes of American teenagers, and all living in a technologically obsessed world; hence, why Jumanji is a video game (albeit an old one), rather than a board game.
While the original film mainly deals with the jungle coming out of the board game, this reboot focuses on the characters being sucked into the jungle, and with that, comes a twist: their avatars become the antithesis of themselves and each other. The ‘weak’ become the ‘dominant’; Spencer becomes ‘Fridge’s’ superior, physically, and while Martha becomes the good-looking, bad-ass woman, Bethany is… Jack Black. Each of them have a set of skills, Dr. Smoulder Bravestone (Spencer), played by Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, smoulders uncontrollably and has no weaknesses; Moose Finbar (‘Fridge’), played by Kevin Hart, is a zoologist and explodes at the taste of cake; Ruby Roundhouse (Martha), played by Karen Gillen, can do almost any martial art that comes to mind, and Professor Shelley Oberon (Bethany), played by Jack Black, is a cartographer, and can’t run from anything fast enough.
Jack Black really takes on the role of a teenage girl obsessed with vanity and boys so well, eyeing up the men, teaching Martha how to flirt, and having a meltdown because his/her phone isn’t glued to his/her hand. He really is what makes this film funny, especially as Bethany gets used to having certain male body parts, and the fascination that she has with that.
While the four main characters, and Nick Jonas’ character Alex Vreeke, are enjoyable, if somewhat predictable (like the storyline), all the other characters we meet in the game are one-dimensional. This, however, is purposeful. In the game we meet NPCs, which, Spencer explains, are non-player characters, they are there to help the story along, and get the main players to where they need to be. Many of these NPCs repeat their programmed lines, and don’t really have a huge amount of personality; now, in one sense this is clever, because it reminds the audience this isn’t I’m a Celebrity, but a video game, but when you make the main villain one dimensional… that’s not so clever.
We see the return of Van Pelt, the hunter who kept chasing after Williams’ Alan Parrish in the original, only now he’s taken control of Jumanji and all its creatures. Our ‘heroes’ have to reverse this curse in order to be released from the game. Van Pelt, played by Bobby Cannavale, is not a very convincing bad guy, the threat of the animals lurking in the jungle is more villainous than he is.
What is villainous is the fact that the trailer makes the film seem funnier than it is; you expect to laugh out loud, only instead you have a little giggle every so often; it is more humorous than hilarious. While it’s worth watching, I would more recommend waiting till its DVD release to see it. I wouldn’t rush to the cinema for it.
Having said that, it’s far from terrible, and it is clever in its use of video-game references, like the characters having strengths and weaknesses, all of them having three lives each, the use of diegetic music that they can hear when a character returns from losing a life, or the beat of drums when something dangerous is about to happen. Thankfully another thing they did do right is the CGI; there is nothing worse than obvious CGI; however it was seamless, and was used well within the movie.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a light-hearted, easy-to-watch action/comedy, with a different take on the coming-of-age story, and a good dynamic between the five main actors. Was it meant to be a sequel, or a standalone? It’s not really clear, but its homage to the original 1995 Jumanji is admirable.
12A (See IFCO for details)
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is released 20th December 2017