JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE

There seems to be this bizarre train of thought amongst my age demographic (millennials who grew up in the 1990’s) that the film Jumanji is a “classic”. It’s a perfectly fine adventure film with good performances, fun action setpieces, and visual effects that have aged as well as a glass of iced tea out in the desert, but a classic? Give me a break. This is clearly due to nostalgia and the popularity of Robin Williams, especially after he unfortunately passed. I loved Jumanji when I was a kid too, but when I watched it again a few years ago, I realized it’s really not that incredible. Certainly not incredible enough to warrant outrage of a sequel decades later, nor to consider it a classic. Nostalgia is certainly a powerful drug. 

In 1996, gamer Alex Vreeke (Mason Guccione) happens upon the magical Jumanji board game washed up on the beach. Uninterested in playing a board game, the Jumanji board game transforms itself into a video game cartridge, piquing his interest. He pops the game in his console and is sucked into it, disappearing from the real world. 20 years later, four teenagers with very different personalities are sent to detention, where they happen upon the same Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle video game. Once they start playing, they’re all sucked into the game’s world, too. Inside the game, the four teens become the avatars they chose, who all look suspiciously like Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan. Now stuck inside the jungle, they must work together to beat the game and escape. 

With a Jumanji sequel now being released, many fans of the original have been clamoring that this new film is insulting and offensive to the “legacy” of Jumanji. So, really, I ask, what legacy? This isn’t something like Casablanca or The Godfather here. So, when I heard a Jumanji sequel was greenlit by Sony, all I thought was, “Oh, it’ll probably suck.” Well, it surprisingly doesn’t and is actually quite a lot of fun. It’s certainly one of the least annoying sequels to come out in a long time, as it’s not chockfull of annoying references or pandering fan service. It’s definitely a sequel to the first film, but it totally does its own thing. Turning the board game into a video game was the perfect avenue to take the sequel, especially coming out in today’s increasingly video game centric society. Doing the video game angle and having the events take place inside the game rather than the real world gave the filmmakers a lot of stuff to work with here, and they mostly do a great job.  

As somebody who plays video games, I appreciated all of the ways the rules of that medium were incorporated here. Each of the teens control a character with special skills and weaknesses, they each only have three lives or it’s game over forever, NPC’s (non-playable characters) act robotic and spout exposition, sidequests, sexualized female characters, and much more. It didn’t just celebrate these tropes, but also satirized them in fun ways. I’m curious how much enjoyment somebody who doesn’t play video games would get from this. Luckily for them, there’s plenty of annoying exposition to keep explaining and reminding along the way. All of these elements make this the best video game movie yet. It only took a movie not actually based off of an actual video game to get it done. 

The reason video games are so hard to adapt to film, is because video games are a completely interactive medium. The excitement comes from controlling the character and completing the challenges. Sure, video games can have fantastic stories to guide you through the experience, but that’s not the main point of the experience. When you’re not an active participant, it’s nowhere near as fun. That is unfortunately the case here. While it’s a lot of fun to see these video game tropes brought to life, it rendered the entire film to be incredibly thin and with low stakes. While the characters have a limited number of lives, I still never felt much danger for them. Once they find out their objective, it’s a straight forward quest to complete where they run through various action sequences. Again, perfectly like a video game, but I’m not having as much fun when not holding a controller. That doesn’t mean it’s completely soulless, though. The film finds its strengths in the characters, where the four of them must learn to use each other’s unique skills and put their differences aside in order to survive. All of their characterization is pretty basic, but there was enough growth and depth there to help me care.  

The characters mostly work due to the terrific cast that brings them to life. We have four adults portraying what are supposed to be teenagers trapped in the dangerous jungle, and they’re all perfect. While I’ve always been a fan of Dwayne Johnson, his charming, charismatic schtick was starting to wear a bit thin for me. When you have him portraying a man who’s inhabited by a nerdy, socially awkward teenager, you have yourself some gold here. Johnson is a beast, but I completely believe him when he’s about to cry, or when he’s anxious about talking to a girl. Jack Black is the other highlight here, being the game avatar of a vain teenage girl, channeling that vapid personality to an almost unsettling perfection. The rest of the cast consisting of Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, and even Nick Jonas are all great too, bringing their own unique touches to their characters. It was really like watching teens trapped in adult bodies. 

So, just like its predecessor, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle isn’t some genre breaking, mind blowing piece of cinema. It certainly will never be considered a classic. However, this is a film about teens are trapped inside a video game and must survive their quest, and in that respect, it’s everything it needed to be. Even if it is kind of dumb and forgettable, it’s fun, it’s brisk, it’s actually very funny, and it has a fantastic cast that holds it all together. Much better than fraudulent sequel made 20 years after the fact for no reason has any right to be. 

7/10

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