Director: Jake Kasdan
Screenplay: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg & Jeff Pinkner
Based on: The novel by Chris van Allsburg
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Bobby Cannavale, Rhys Darby, Nick Jonas
Running Time: 119 min
BBFC Certificate: 12A
In 1995, four people played a magic jungle-themed board game that almost killed them in several innovative yet horribly animated ways. After the game was completed it was lost, until it was discovered a year later by a teenager, who dismissed it as boring, because that was the mid-90s and the board game revival hadn't happened yet. That night the game transformed into a video game cartridge, and the next morning the boy very quickly regrets attempting to play this new game. Twenty years later, four high school kids from different yet stereotypical cliques find themselves in their very own Breakfast Club detention scenario, being forced to clear out a school store room as punishment. They discover the same video game cartridge and opt to play, only to be sucked into the game and transformed into the characters they selected. They must work together to complete the game and survive the jungle if they have any hope of getting back to their real lives.
When this Jumanji sequel was announced, it was met with a chorus of exasperated sighs and preparations for disappointment. A sequel to Jumanji, an in-its-time semi-decent but now very dated and only enjoyed through nostalgia-vision family film, being updated by the guy who directed Sex Tape and Bad Teacher and headlined by the stars of Central Intelligence? No dice. The notion of updating it to a video game sounded at least a little different and more timely, but this had "unnecessary and unwelcome" written all over it. So it's with utter delight that I can state this is far more enjoyable than expected, more so than it has any right to be.
Don't get me wrong, it's not some kind of groundbreaking reinvention of cinema as we know it, but it's not trying to be, and frankly within the family-friendly belated sequel territory, it's an achievement to just be bearable, let alone as much fun as this is. The key win is the cast, and the characters they've been paired up with, managing to be both in line with and very much against type simultaneously. Dwayne Johnson is the wonderfully named Dr. Smoulder Bravestone, your typical muscular hero adventurer, but he is inhabited by Spencer (Alex Wolff), an asthmatic hypochondriac indoor kid with a fear of pretty much all animals. Kevin Hart is Franklin "Mouse" Finbar, a diminutive yet knowledgeable weapon caddy, played by Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), an American football star using Spencer's intellect to coast through school. Karen Gillan is Ruby Roundhouse, a scantily clad warrior, inhabited by Martha (Morgan Turner), an awkward, shy cynic, and finally Jack Black steals the show as portly cartographer Shelly Oberon, possessed by Bethany (Madison Iseman), an Instagram-addicted beauty queen. The majority of the film's comedy comes from watching these well-worn paper-thin character archetypes be subverted and played around with, and Jack Black shows such an affinity for embodying a prissy teenage girl that it's a wonder he's never done it before. It's worth watching for the moment Bethany-as-Shelly discovers her/his penis (don't be put off, it's still a very kid-friendly film). Aside from Black, all the leads perform very well and are given mostly equal screen time and agency, and are all very funny throughout.
Outside of the core cast everyone is solid - even Nick Jonas, who I didn't expect a great deal from but he also raised a few smiles and played his role well - but I was a little disappointed with how Bobby Cannavale was handled. I'm a fan of the actor, especially when he plays more enigmatic characters, but here he's saddled with a typical villain who is seemingly evil for the sake of being evil. There's not much to his character other than being an antagonist and acting antagonistically, and I was hoping for something more. That being said, it's very much in keeping with the 90s era video game setting, when villains were simply the bad guy you had to defeat at the end, because you were the good guy and they were fighting you, and whenever they came on screen all you wanted to do was get back to the action, but instead had to sit through an unskippable exposition scene. This video game logic papers over a few of the film's flaws - of course Karen Gillan is barely wearing any clothes, she's essentially Lara Croft with more dance fighting - and the development of this logic is well used.
The climax delves a little too far into Fast and Furious level lunacy, and it was disappointing that some of the "real world" characters - played by the likes of Marc Evan Jackson and Missi Pyle - weren't represented in the game world, as was the case with Jonathan Hyde in the original, but these are small concerns and should not in any way prevent you from watching this highly entertaining movie. It's absolutely fine to not expect much from a popcorn flick, and perhaps those lowered expectations enhanced this experience, but regardless this is a heartily recommended watch, and something I look forward to playing again soon.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Monday April 30th. Special features include a gag reel, Jack Black & Nick Jonas music video and featurettes on making the film, the cast, the stunts and the visual effects behind the rhino sequence.