“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”- Movie Review
Here’s a fun fact- when I was a little kid, I was ninety-nine percent positive that the 1995 Robin Williams movie, Jumanji, was a horror movie. I remember being so terrified that I hid behind the couch whenever it was on TV and being afraid to walk around in the dark in fear of a bloodthirsty lion lurking about. Add in scenes involving giant plant tentacles dragging a police cruiser into the woods and a massive man-eating tarantula plant sprouting from the fireplace to eat a child, and you have enough nightmare fuel to last the rest of your childhood. Needless to say, the film holds a special place in my heart. And while its standalone sequel didn’t look nearly as frightening, I hoped it would have some kind of spark to it.
A Breakfast Club-esque group of teenagers- including the geek (Alex Wolff), the jock (Ser’Darius Blain), the popular girl (Madison Iseman), and the outcast (Morgan Turner)- are stuck cleaning out their high school basement as part of detention. They come across a dusty old video-game called Jumanji and decide to play a quick round. The kids each pick their avatars and are immediately thrust into the dangerous and unpredictable world of the jungle. Now they must brave this new frontier and all the craziness that comes along with it in order to survive to the finish line.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle fits the bill of a popcorn movie. It has good action, it has a great sense of humor, and, most importantly, it’s fun. It’s not one of those movies that keep you guessing, and there aren’t any twists and turns you don’t see coming from a mile away. Though you forgive the predictability of the story because A) you can argue it plays off of the overly simplistic style of video game narratives as a whole, and B) it’s obviously here to just give you a fun experience for two hours. Granted, the first ten minutes are pretty clunky, with weak comedy beats and awkward writing for the introduction to the kid characters. Once they get sucked into the video game world, the film clicks on.
At the same time, I applaud them for trying something different. It would have been so easy for the filmmakers to re-create the 1995 film. Welcome to the Jungle pokes fun at video games tropes, such as cut scenes, some avatars having for strengths or weaknesses than others, cheesy storylines, and info-dump characters. What makes it even funnier is the main characters’ reactions to the absurdity of their situation. Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillian, Kevin Hart, and Jack Black are hilarious as these ordinary kids trapped in these stereotyped avatar bodies. Gillian has some funny moments, as does Johnson. Kevin Hart pretty much just plays himself. If you don’t care for Hart’s usual shtick, then you probably won’t take to his character all that much. Personally, I think Kevin Hart is funny, so I had no problem. Though the comedic standout is Jack Black, who’s tasked with playing a vapid teenage girl in the body of an overweight, middle-aged man. This role could’ve been played over-the-top in a way that’s more annoying than it is funny. But Black’s plays it very subtly, and he’s totally believable and hilarious as the teenage girl. Even Nick Jonas, who I completely forgot was in this movie, goes a good job.
Bobby Canavale gives a fine performance as the villain, though he should’ve been given more to do. His purpose is to be every corny video game villain, so not much depth is needed. However, I wish he had more to do. He just kind of stands and walks around looking menacing, and even in the climax he doesn’t put up much of a fight. The film would’ve also benefited from pushing the envelope a little further. I’m not a gamer, so I can’t tell you what other references could’ve been thrown in there. But I think the filmmakers could’ve taken more outrageous liberties in terms of the story.
You can’t walk into Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle expecting greatness, because that’s not what it’s trying to be. It’s here for you entertainment, and on that surface level, it doesn’t disappoint. The villain himself and the parts outside of the jungle are a bust, but the comedy and the action are strong. To me, that’s what’s important. So if you’re in the mood to stuff your face with popcorn, turn off your brain and strap yourself in for a wild adventure, then Jumanji is the movie for you.
Cosmic Grade: 3.6 out of 5 Stars