Director: Jake Kasdan
Writer: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinker, Chris Van Allsburg, Greg Taylor, Jim Strain, Jonathon Hensleigh
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Bobby Cannavale, Nick Jonas
In 1995 Jumanji came to us. This time we go to Jumanji.
When examining the building blocks which make up this modernised follow up to the 1995 Robin Williams classic, it becomes clear that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is this year’s coming-of-age teen fantasy action film, in which a group of school-age kids is thrust into a fantastical adventure, during which they will learn and grow. They release one of these types of films every few years, presumably to appeal to every wave of young secondary-school-age cinema goers and, for the most part, they are generally successful and enjoyable frolics through exciting new worlds.
Welcome to the Jungle has, happily, followed in similar form, but brings with it a crucial difference. While we meet and begin to understand our character's specific quandaries through their teenage counterparts, the adventure itself is shown through the eyes of four big Hollywood names, transforming this teen adventure movie into a huge blockbuster - one which carries with it the famous nomenclature of 'Jumanji'. Already, this film has a double head-start.
The opening scene makes it very clear that this is a direct continuation, rather than a new interpretation, but does so in a laughable fashion; the game's jump from board-game to video-game is decidedly lazy and does little to reassure the viewer that this is a worthwhile sequel. However, once this moment of ridiculousness has passed, things only improve. Our unwitting players this time around are four teenagers, who find themselves being transported into the game during an act of rebellion in a shared detention. Jumanji's evolution into video-game form opens various new avenues for both comedy and story-telling, and Welcome to the Jungle takes full advantage of this new narrative landscape; ridiculous character names, nonsensical weaknesses and a crude level system all make an appearance. This exploitation of typical video game themes makes this film exceptionally self-aware, and all the funnier for it.
As they arrive they take on the form of their chosen avatars, embodied by Johnson, Gillan, Hart, and Black, and so the journey through Jumanji begins. On this adventure, they each learn courage/self-esteem/humility/selflessness, respectively, and each of the main cast - including Nick Jonas, who bounds in from nowhere - tell each story warmly. Johnson does very well in an unfamiliar role, one where he drops his normal blistering confidence and embodies insecurity and teenage awkwardness. He and Hart again confirm their prowess as a comedy duo, even if Hart's gags mainly revolve around his height (or lack of), which is not a fair representation of his comedic talent. Black hilariously manifests the mannerisms and diction of a teenage girl with alarming ease, while Gillan is brilliantly awkward as the timid schoolgirl turned karate expert. Credit must also go to the main cast's younger equivalents, Wolff, Blain, Iseman and Turner, who competently set the scene before we venture into the world of Jumanji.
One disappointment is that Welcome to the Jungle seems to lack some imagination. The first film brought the land of Jumanji to us, and teased a terrifying world of unparalleled dangers and mysterious creatures, all of which are indiscriminately motivated to kill you. As Williams' freshly shaven Alan Parish warned Judy and Peter in '95...
"You think that mosquitoes, monkeys, and lions are bad? That is just the beginning. I’ve seen things you’ve only seen in your nightmares. Things you can’t even imagine. Things you can’t even see."
Spooky. But the new film doesn’t seem to explore this new world to any great extent, the most outlandish creature in the film being a carnivorous albino rhino. Where are the man-eating plants, where are the giant spiders? Welcome to the Jungle simply fails to bring anything new to the party; its unlikely to have any impact on the younger members of the audience, but may dissatisfy those older viewers seeking some nostalgia.
Aside from this, Welcome to the Jungle is fun and colourful, and provides 2 hours worth of feel-good escapism, with a healthy dose of silliness which is impossible to dislike. More importantly though, despite a rocky start, Welcome to the Jungle has comfortably asserted itself as a worthy continuation. It may not capture the charm of its predecessor, but easily managed to bring some new charm of its own.
In one line: Welcome to the Jungle is a fantastic, modernised follow-up to the '95 classic, which promises to be fun and does just that.