You know if you had asked me if we needed a sequel to Jumanji a few years ago, I probably would have said “Do we really need a sequel?” And while the answer to that question may not have changed in the last couple of years, there was something about the trailer to Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle that intrigued me enough to watch it. The premise seemed fun enough and with a cast consisting of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan, there was enough star power and charisma here to make me hope that this would be a good movie.
The said premise was simple enough. Four kids happen across the Jumanji game, this time taking the form of a video game, and get trapped within it. Each of the kids take on the form (or avatar) of one the games characters and the only way to free themselves is to finish the game. It’s a pretty straight forward idea and one that, though a little predictable, has been executed rather well, leading to two hours of fun and silliness.
One of the most unexpected things I found about Welcome to the Jungle is how heavily it leans on the video game aspect of the story. But it does so in a way that actually makes it relatable for the non-gaming audience as well. I might as go far to say that this might be one of the few decent video-game movies, even if it isn’t based on a real video game. Jumanji plays up all the video game clichés, using them to propel the story forward, but at the same time also takes the time to explain these tropes so that the casual viewer can take in what’s going on. Gamers may roll their eyes at some of the explanations, but the liberties the movie takes with gaming concepts are forgivable as they result in a decent piece of entertainment.
If you have seen the trailer, you would know that some of the humour of the film comes from the mismatch of the kids and their in-game avatars. Spencer (Alex Wolff) is the stereotypical nerd, chock full of allergies, lack of confidence and physical prowess so of course he takes on the persona of Dr. Smoulder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), the most charismatic and physically statuesque explorer known to man. Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), a football jock, gets trapped in the diminutive form of Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), a zoologist and weapons specialist. Bethany (Madison Iseman), a self-absorbed prima donna is transformed into the rather rotund Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon, cartographer extraordinaire, and the last member of the group, the rather studious and insecure Martha (Morgan Turner) is now Ruby Roundhouse, a highly trained and seductive fighter.
As fun as it is to see the video-game versions of kids acting in a manner that totally belies their physical appearance, the joke does wear thin after a while. I mean there’s only so far you can push Jack Black acting as a vain teenage girl before it starts getting repetitive. Thankfully, Welcome to the Jungle isn’t just a one trick pony, and utilises the chemistry between the four leads to create a likeable and engaging team dynamic. The banter between the main cast is one of the movie’s strengths, as is the lush tropical African setting. As the group slowly learn the extent of the strength and weaknesses within the game, we are treated to many an action filled sequence, often set in exotic bazaars or verdant fields. Using Hawaii as a stand-in for the African locale was a smart move, and ensures that the film looks great and isn’t plagued by the obvious green-screening that many modern movies seem to succumb to.
With the right mix of humour, action and visual effects Jumanji will keep most members of the family entertained while at the same time adding a bit more to the Jumanji lore. There are nods to the original movie but it doesn’t get too bogged down in fan-service and manages to be a decent movie in its own right. There aren’t too many twists and turns, and the storyline pretty much goes the way you would expect it to, along with the obligatory lessons learned along the way. So if you are after something that is light-hearted, entertaining and won’t tax your brain too much, then Jumanji is the movie for you.
With Welcome to the Jungle, director Jake Kasdan has managed to avoid the train wreck the film had the potential to be and delivered on the fun promise of the trailer. I give it a 7 out of 10, and there are no post-credit sequences.