Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle
20th December 2017
Four teenagers are sucked into a magical video game, and the only way they can escape is to work together to finish the game.
They said it couldn’t be done.
A successful sequel to the beloved 1995 family adventure movie Jumanji starring the irreplaceable Robin Williams seemed an impossible feat; even more so after the entertainer’s tragic death in 2014. Merely a year later in August 2015, Sony Pictures announced their intention to continue with the sequel, much to the anger of his fans.
But against all odds, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle manages to be a heartfelt homage to its fallen father as well as a thoroughly entertaining and consistently hilarious piece of entertainment for all ages.
Taking place 20 years after the original, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle sees four teenagers sucked into the game world after finding the Jumanji board during detention. There’s Spencer the shy nerd, Anthony “Fridge” Johnson, the sports fanatic and ex-best friend of Spencer, Bethany the selfie-obsessed beauty queen and finally Martha, Spencer’s love interest and hater of authority.
When they are transported into the game however, their personalities and appearances drastically change – Spencer becomes the muscular and brave Dr Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Fridge is the short zoologist Franklin “Mouse” Finbar, Martha is the martial arts expert Ruby Roundhouse and Bethany transforms into the overweight effeminate Professor Sheldon “Shelley” Oberon, a map reading specialist.
With the help of each other and longtime player Alex (Nick Jonas) they must use their assigned skills and weaknesses to save Jumanji from Russel Van Pelt, a hunter who has stolen a precious jewel from a jaguar statue located in the depths of the jungle. With this item, he is able to control all animals and ultimately rule the kingdom. The only way to get back home is to return the jewel and restore Jumanji back to the tranquil world it once was. But with Van Pelt on their trail and only three lives each to spare, they must put aside their differences and embrace the new personalities if any of them are to survive.
Acting as more of a reboot than a direct sequel, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle has a much more playful feel to it than its predecessor. 1995s Jumanji has an undeniable mean streak running throughout, especially for its target audience, whereas WTTJ is an all-together more comedic affair. This is entirely down to the leads and the chemistry they all share – the biggest factor in the film’s success.
Johnson and Hart first appeared together in 2016s action comedy caper Central Intelligence, and while the film was a largely forgettable affair the pairing of the two was an inspired one and brought back memories of the heyday of buddy cop comedies in the 80s. Their interactions are funnier than ever here as everyone involved essentially plays their typecast characters to a ridiculously exaggerated level – Johnson is exactly as his characters name suggests, a smoldering hulk of testosterone and charisma with Hart playing the OTT, arms flailing, “how did I get into this situation?!” buffoon. Jack Black is perfectly cast as the camp Professor and isn’t too dissimilar to his portrayal of the titular character in the criminally underrated Bernie and Nick Jonas impresses as the stranded pilot Alex.
If there was a weak link to them all, it certainly would be Karen Gillan’s Ruby Roundhouse. There’s nothing wrong with what Gillan is doing, in fact, she probably brings more to the character than it would have got from anyone else, but it’s without a doubt the most underwritten player of the four. To her credit, the other three are basically playing characters they have already stepped into the shoes of before but turned up to 1000 and Gillan, well, isn’t. But she makes it her own, and is even given an extended scene to shine to the beat of Big Mountain’s commercial reggae classic ‘Baby, I Love Your Way’; in which she obviously kicks ass.
Speaking of weaknesses, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle’s villain is its biggest. Van Pelt appears intermittently, coming across as more of an afterthought or an obligatory bad guy when really the film is one of those rare ones where a physical villainous figure isn’t necessary. The jungle itself throws enough peril at the group, at least for two and a half acts, until the writers remember that Van Pelt probably should do something substantial.
It’s also a little light on action set pieces too, with only two notable sequences. A substantial amount of time is spent on character development, and while this makes the few moments of peril slightly more investing, it would have been satisfying to have additional scenarios where the time spent caring about them all could be utilized further.
Negativity aside, J:WTTJ produces some genuinely funny moments. As previously touched upon, these arise mainly from the quartets interactions with each other and the conflicting personalities (Jack Black attempting to teach the socially awkward Ruby Roundhouse how to flirt is a real highlight), but it knows when to get serious too; there’s a real positive message on acceptance of others running through the movie and it never seems phoney.
The references and nods to the original don’t feel fraudulent either – they’re smartly inserted and naturally fit into the story and don’t distract away from the one that Johnson & co. are telling.
Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle is a pleasant surprise on all levels. The jokes cater from ages 8 to 80, the chemistry between all is stronger than Dwayne Johnson himself and it respectfully acknowledges its source material.
So roll the dice and take the chance – Welcome To The Jungle deserves more than just a passing glance.
Chemistry between the quartet is exceptional
Respectful of the original while being confident in its own story
Jokes and comedy cater for all ages
Positive message of acceptance of yourself and others
Karen Gillan's character is underwritten
Few action sequences