Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Review: Roll for Charisma
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle review: Dwayne Johnson and company successfully (for the most part) rely on a heavy dose of charisma to cover up some faults.
While there probably wasn’t a huge demand for a sequel to 1995’s Jumanji, in a year oversaturated with sequels and reboots, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle manages to do something that several of the other sequels failed to do: it justifies its own existence. It isn’t an essential film by any means, but it at least offers an interesting take on the old material.
With that said, if you are looking for a groundbreaking deconstruction of a familiar property that challenges your notions of what a sequel can be, well, then this probably isn’t the film for you. But if you are looking for a quick escape for a few hours, you could do worse.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is an inoffensive film. It isn’t great and it isn’t terrible. It’s a two hour bit of novocaine for the brain that will offer a pleasant momentary distraction. It’s a film you can go to with the whole family and you will probably all leave without regretting it. It won’t generate a lot of repeat viewings, but in a world where most big budget films automatically fall into the category of “amazing” or “a blight on the world,” Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle falls somewhere in between.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is more of a spiritual successor to the original than a direct continuation. It’s not all that different from the 2005 Jumanji spiritual successor Zathura: A Space Adventure in that sense, but there are more than a few callbacks to the original. Welcome to the Jungle is very much a standalone film, however, with original characters and a new story. The only direct connection is the game, which comes in a new form.
The movie has its anchor in the real world and focuses on four high school teens that all neatly fit into boxes – at least at first: Spencer (Alex Wolff) is the sweet, video game loving nerd; Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) is the popular jock that has become too cool to hang out with his old, nerdy friend; Bethany (Madison Iseman) is self-obsessed and glued to her phone; Martha (Morgan Turner) is the brainy girl who alienates others due to a lack of confidence. They are high school archetypes, designed for the audience to feel a connection to one or even all of them.
When the four teens end up in detention and stumble upon an old video game system with a game called “Jumanji,” they take a quick break and decide to try it out. Each teen is given a character that is uniquely suited to them, and they quickly find themselves sucked into the world of Jumanji, a jungle world made for adventure.
When the teens land in the world, they discover that they are no longer themselves, but rather inhabit the bodies of their characters. The cowardly Spencer is now a heroic adventurer (Dwayne Johnson), the arrogant Fridge becomes a sidekick (Kevin Hart), the image-obsessed Bethany becomes a middle-aged man (Jack Black), and the bookish Martha is a sexy fighter (Karen Gillan). Each has his/her own skills and weaknesses, and they each have three lives.
The four quickly realize that in order to get home they must “beat” the game, which in this case means returning a gem to a mystical statue while staying one step ahead of an evil explorer named Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale). Along the way they come across Alex (Nick Jonas), a fifth gamer trapped in Jumanji, who has skills they need.
You can probably guess where this is going.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’s greatest strength and weakness is in its predictability. You know from the first moment that the kids will learn valuable things and that they will have to come together to save the day. If you want to be challenged, this isn’t the movie for you. Where it excels, however, is in the charisma of the individual stars.
Johnson is one of the most popular actors on the planet for a reason, and he has fun playing Spencer, a geeky boy in the body of a… well, a pro wrestler. It’s a great role for Johnson. He gets to be his normal, heroic self while simultaneously playing a vulnerable and geeky kid. It is the best of all worlds for him, and Johnson’s charisma elevates this film beyond what it could have been.
But Johnson is part of a team, and each team member carries their own weight. Hart manages to tone down is normal routine and offer comedy relief, and Black is all in playing a teenage girl trapped in a man’s body. Oddly, he/she becomes the heart of the film in many ways. Of them all though, Gillan steals every scene she is in. She doesn’t have as much to do as Johnson, but what she does do she does incredibly well. She was born to play the role of an awkward teen trapped in the body of a model.
Beyond that, it’s all fairly by the book. It also proves the absurdity of the MPAA rating system. There’s no reason for this film to be PG-13 rather than PG, but the slightly more mature rating is probably more profitable these days than the more family-friendly – and in perception, tamer – rating. But that’s another conversation altogether.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Review Conclusion
Director Jake Kasdan bets everything on the cast in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and it mostly pays off. The four stars take a very average story and make it into something far better than it might have otherwise been. There’s only so much they can do though.
If you want a decent movie to escape reality for two hours, this might be just the ticket. It’s inoffensive, has some genuinely funny moments, and features a cast that transcends the material. Just don’t expect much more.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is rated PG-13 with a running time of 119 minutes.