“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” dir. Jake Kasdan
In a brand new Jumanji adventure, four high school kids discover an old video game console and are drawn into the game’s jungle setting, literally becoming the adult avatars they chose. What they discover is that you don’t just play Jumanji – you must survive it. To beat the game and return to the real world, they’ll have to go on the most dangerous adventure of their lives, discover what Alan Parrish left 20 years ago, and change the way they think about themselves – or they’ll be stuck in the game forever, to be played by others without break.
The original “Jumanji” holds some nostalgia for audiences who grew up in the 90’s. It’s not a particularly good film, but it has a charm to it in large part due to the effortless charm from the late, great Robin Williams. He made the movie work from an entertainment standpoint. The concept wasn’t what grabbed people from the start. On that note, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” attempts to update the material for a modern audience but feels manufactured as a result.
The cast features Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan, all of whom are given weak material to work with. The gimmick here is that four high school kids are sucked into the world of Jumanji in the roles of the avatars they chose, giving the four leads an opportunity to go through an adventure story whilst acting like teenagers. Despite the committed performances, this flat out doesn’t work. Johnson and Hart both play their characters exactly like any other character they’ve played before, Gillain is completely lifeless, and Jack Black’s schtick of playing a teenage girl in a middle-aged man’s body is tired and painfully unfunny.
There’s definitely a good effort put into immersing the audience into the jungle by shooting on location as much as possible. Unfortunately, this is quickly undone during the action set pieces that feature subpar visual effects and distracting green screen. The film is at it’s most fun when our characters are trying to escape the villain’s evil henchmen and they fight them off using their in-game skills. Whenever any animals come into play, the fun stops.
Speaking of the villain, played by the usually entertaining Bobby Cannavale, he’s a typical, cliche villain you’d expect to see in an adventure film like this and is no fun to watch. Moreover, since the film is from the perspective of the four characters playing the game, Cannavale’s character constantly distracts from the story. There’s a strangely large amount of screentime devoted to seeing him plot his evil scheme which drags the film down considerably from it’s kinetic pace.
Without spoiling anything, Nick Jonas has the most compelling character arc in “Welcome to the Jungle.” There was a real attempt to inject some decent emotional stakes with him. The problem is that it comes in far too late to really make up for the numerous shortcomings.
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is harmless enough that it can be enjoyed as a brief diversion and families are sure to have a good time. That being said, it still feels like a manufactured, soulless reboot that doesn’t have any staying power. Sometimes, it’s okay for a surface-level blockbuster to come along and have fun with, but whatever fun is there isn’t there for very long.
Have you seen “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle?” Are you a fan of the original? Are you saving your money for “Star Wars” next week? Leave your thoughts down below in the comments.
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