There’s no doubt that, concidering society’s obsession with nostalgia, Hollywood studios are raiding more and more of their back catalogues to see whether any of it could be monetised. In some cases it works, a la Star Wars or Beauty and the Beast. But other times you can’t help wondering how anyone thought this was a good idea.
*cough* Baywatch *cough*
But in doing a sequel to Jumanji, there was definitely a lot of hesitation on my part. What were they going to do? Just play the game again? But now with better visual effects? At least Zathura took the entire idea into outer space!
However, like the time Thor destroyed my opinion that it was just “Hammertime without the Hammer Pants” (Seriously, my puns were not good back in 2011); I’m really glad that this belated sequel is a far better film than it originally seemed.
After getting caught cheating at homework, distant friends Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff) and Anthony “Fridge” Johnson (Ser’Darius Blain) are sent to after-school detention. Ordered to clean out the school basement, they share their punishment with two others; the vapid Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman) and the shy Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner).
Quickly getting bored, they discover amongst the rubbish something called Jumanji, an action-adventure multiplayer videogame. They each choose an avatar to play as, but the moment they press start, the foursome are sucked into the game.
Now trapped in a dangerous jungle, the four school children find themselves inhabiting the avatars they chose in the real world: Spencer has become the handsome hunk Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson); Martha is now the scantily clad martial artist Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillian); Fridge wakes up as the vertically-challenged zoologist Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart); and Bethany finds herself as Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black), the overweight intellectual of the group.
Together they must find a way to complete the game, all the while fighting off the villainous Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale).
It’s easy to forgot just how dark the original Jumanji was. Parental death, abandonment, PTSD. Pretty disturbing stuff for a kids film! Fortunately the Jake Kasdan-directed sequel recognises that traumatising children might not be the most entertaining approach in this day and age.
Instead the focus on teenagers and their woes, while irritating on the surface, does ground the film in relatable issues. This extends for pretty much the whole movie as the journey essentially becomes young people trying to overcome their insecurities.
Indeed, in terms of dragging the story into the 21st century, changing Jumanji from a board-game into a video-game ultimately seems to work. In the same vein of Wreck-It Ralph, the film takes the old-school approach towards gaming, with characters literally possessing three lives and adhering to increasing ludicrous video-game physics.
Speaking of characters, the fantastic foursome of Johnson, Gillian, Hart and Black end up being an utter delight. With three of them playing against type (Sorry, Hart) and completely running with it, the lighthearted romp becomes a joy to experience with a ton of fun verbose exchanges and one-liners.
But, without a doubt, the star of the show is Jack Black playing a teenage girl trapped in the body of “an overweight middle-aged man!” Black’s role is the one that best shows the brilliance of having different actors play these teenage roles. If you had been forced to watch a social-media addicted teenager whine and bitch about her phone for an hour and a half, it would have been utterly throttle-worthy. But by having Black tackle the same path instead, this gender-swapped role instead becomes the most hilarious thing the movie has to offer.
However, the same excellent character development isn’t in anyway extended to the villain. While Bobby Cannavale is an accomplished actor, there’s only so much the man can do to bring life to the tediously written role of Van Pelt. Unlike the brilliant (and deadly) performance by Johnathan Hyde in the original Jumanji, the 21st century equivalent feels like a grumpy old man with an irritating skin rash.
There are “bad” sequels and there are “good” sequels. But Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle takes a running long jump over into “great” territory. With lovable characters, endless comedy, and a well-structured script; this sequel to the 1995 classic already has the right to be referred to in the same vein.
Roll on Jumanji 3!