When I was 13, I saw Jumanji in the theater. I’m pretty sure that was the last time I’d watched it, but after Robin Williams died in 2014 I became nostalgic for all of his work. Thus, when they announced “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”, I, like much of the internet, was immediately outraged about a film I barely remembered. Then the trailer dropped, and it got a few chuckles out of me. Early reviews confirmed what the trailer implied: this might actually be entertaining. It turned out that it was indeed very entertaining, and the cast hit their parts perfectly.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was a delightfully fun surprise
Spencer (Alex Wolff), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), Martha (Morgan Turner), and Bethany (Madison Iseman) find themselves in a Breakfast Clubesque detention scenario, only to be forced into free labor for their school. They discover an odd video game called “Jumanji” and decide to blow off their sanctioned service and give the game a go; they are then sucked into the game, and find themselves inhabiting their selected avatars: Spencer as Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson); Fridge as Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart); Martha as Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan); and Bethany as Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black). They are given a MacGuffin that must be returned to the MacGuffin holder in order to escape the game and resume their normal, mundane lives.
Black shines as the comedic highlight of this movie. He nails the mannerisms of a teenage girl and gets to do some of the funniest PG-13 penis jokes in recent memory. Of course, the entire cast does a terrific job initially playing the teen archetypes and later subverting them. Each teenager ends up choosing an avatar that is essentially their real-life opposite, which allows for some great comedic moments. Johnson gets to play a scaredy cat, Kevin Hart’s character gets to be intimidating, and Gillan…well, her character’s irony of being uncomfortable with her physical appearance while commenting on how action female stars are scantily dressed doesn’t necessarily land, but it is played for some solid humor and awesome action. Bobby Cannavale is cast as the villain and gets little to do, but is better than all of the DC Cinematic Universe villains so far.
The plot is structured like a video game, which works given that they are in a video game. It plays on familiar video game tropes and definitely manages to rehash elements of the original Jumanji. There are some engaging action sequences in the film for both Johnson and Gillan, as well as a few comedic deaths. It’s a fun thrill ride, and the best on-screen representation of a video game that has been presented.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is better than it has any right to be. Twenty-two years after the original film was released and ultimately pushed to the deep recesses of our brain, this entertaining modernization comes to life and fully embraces its comedic side. While there isn’t much time spent at the high school on-screen, the film manages to still address a lot of the teen genre tropes, making it feel all the more relevant. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.