22 Dec Review Of…Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
It’s worth checking out this surprisingly clever and funny sequel that respects your love of the Robin Williams original.
We live in a time when nostalgic classics are being dredged up from the past in a series of weak attempts to squeeze more cash out of us – and we know it (looking at you, Transformers ). Add to that the very tender feelings we have about the late Robin Williams, 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle had a lot to live up to.
Impressively, it actually manages to do this. This film is like mum’s new boyfriend you viewed with scepticism from a distance until you learned he’s actually a pretty cool guy who isn’t trying to replace your dad.
Set up as a direct sequel to the 1995 original, a quirky series of events transforms Jumanji from a board game to a video game. Much like Alan Parrish in the original film, a sole curious character, this time a 1996 metal-head named Alex, decides to play the game before getting dramatically sucked inside it. Leaping forward 21 years we learn that Alex’s disappearance, much like Alan’s, has become a dark chapter in the town’s history.
Somehow, Alex’s unbranded game console with the Jumanji cartridge still stuck in it – is discovered by four hapless, yet stereotypical teens serving detention in the school’s basement – yes it does get a little Breakfast Clubby in here.
Spencer (an anxious, allergic geek), Fridge (an arrogant, mean jock), Martha (mousy, shy, and bookish), and Bethany (a narcissistic, phone-obsessed, popular girl) each select an avatar and decide to play. Suddenly they find themselves sucked into a glowing green light on the console, and dumped into a mysterious jungle occupying the bodies of their selected characters.
Suddenly, Spencer finds himself in the body of Dr Bravestone, played by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. An easy highlight of the film is witnessing The Rock act surprised at the size of his own muscles and accidentally using his “smouldering intensity” skill. Martha finds herself as Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), a fighting expert dressed like Lara Croft. Martha displays discomfort but clearly the filmmakers wanted Gillan’s navel on display despite the impracticality of romping about the jungle in a crop-top. Fridge is demoted from alpha male of the group to Dr Bravestone’s sidekick, Mousse Finbar (Kevin Hart), his displeasure makes for some of the films funnier moments. Bethany winds up in the body of Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black), this – along with not having a phone – causes her to have a meltdown.
The plot’s premise is very simple. They must move a glowing green rock through a series of levels, and return it to the face of a giant stone jaguar while being chased by the villain, Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale). Completing this task is the only way out of Jumanji. This is the place, if you hadn’t already assumed, where Williams’ Alan Parrish spent 26 years in the original film, and where the intrepid foursome discover Alex (Nick Jonas), who thinks he has only been in the game for several months.
Having the film set inside a video game gives rise to a series of funny gags based on game conventions. Rhys Darby’s cameo as the opening tutorial is our first introduction to an NPC, or non-player character, who recites a small unchanging series of lines before flinging the characters into a cut-scene. Finbar, who acts as Dr Bravestone’s valet, has an ever-expanding and seemingly limitless backpack from which he can pull absurdly sized objects – Mary Poppins-style – at will. Each character discovers that they can bring up their own menu screen, where they learn their own skills and weaknesses. Finbar, we learn, explodes when he eats cake.
Flipping the character archetypes by giving the geek the role of hero, empowering the shy girl and effectively cutting the popular kids down a peg is a welcome shake up that leads to some surprisingly deep moments. Of course, when we return to the real world – spoiler alert, they do get the thingy into the hole – each person having grown into a more well-rounded and likeable character.
Told you it was like The Breakfast Club.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is easy to watch and enjoy, packed with well-timed gags, and a healthy dose of self-awareness. Best of all, this simple, fun, fast-paced film doesn’t attempt to write-over your experience of Williams’ original, which is a rare achievement when re-working nostalgic classics.
Words by Eliza Murray // Photography via Sony Pictures Entertainment