Led by a fantastic cast, brimming with hilarious moments and packed with a surprising amount of heart, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is one hell of a good time.
You’d be forgiven for instantly dismissing Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle upon the release of its first trailer. It seemed that Hollywood had once again thrown the dart and hit whatever vaguely popular popcorn flick from years past that a couple of extra bucks could be wrung from, the studio vultures preparing for another snack. Surely, despite the great cast, this was just another sequel-reboot-remake-spin off destined to wallow in mediocrity and financial adequacy? Well, you’re wrong – Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a ridiculously good time.
Set in the same world as the original 1995, Robin Williams-starring Jumanji, Welcome to the Jungle sees the titular game take a modern adaptation. This time it’s a video game which sucks in four teenagers whilst on detention, there’s the nerd Spencer (Alex Wolff), the jock Anthony “Fridge” (Ser’Darius Blain), the introvert Martha (Morgan Turner) and the popular girl Bethany (Madison Iseman). But inside Jumanji, they become their selected avatars; Spencer is archaeologist Dr Smoulder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Fridge is zoologist Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), Martha is martial artist Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), and Bethany is cartographer Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black). Each character comes with their own special abilities, weaknesses and functions within the group, and together they must beat the game in order to return to their own world.
The route the characters take is an interesting one, we spend most of the time with the avatars as the actors convey both the character of the avatar and the teenagers playing as the avatars. It’s a bit of a Russian doll-type roll call but the cast totally nail it. Johnson, forever the machismo king, is fantastic as the kid-in-a-candy-shop-approach to Spencer in Bravestone’s body, he gets plenty of badass moments as we would expect from Mr Johnson, but also displays great physical comedic prowess and delivery, his ogling at his own physique gives the film plenty of meta nods. Kevin Hart is always an acquired taste, but he is used in perfect moderation here, acting almost as the straight man in this bonkers world into which the teens have been thrust, his delivery also expertly executed to shatter a lot of the common clichés and beats. Gillan is a little under-served, but provides a solid performance with what she is given, whilst Roundhouse may not be a character as much in on the fun as the others, Gillan’s portrayal of the insecure and introverted Martha in this body works well. But it’s the comedic dynamite that is Jack Black who steals the show. A popular, self-entitled, Instagram obsessed girl in the body of Jack Black, it could be a joke that wears out its welcome quickly, but Black makes it work the entire time. His physical comedy is irresistibly entertaining, and his delivery is pitch perfect. Honestly, you don’t know you need Jack Black as a teenage girl for 100 minutes until you get it.
Whilst the brunt of Jumanji is set inside the game, time is spent outside in the real world. The performances and humour here is nothing to write home about and it hits a lot of familiar, generic beats, but the stuff inside the game is Jumanji‘s real strength. The arcs the characters undergo are surprisingly touching as the teens come to grips with their avatars, but also with each other and with themselves in the outside world. The chemistry between Johnson, Hart, Gillan and Black aids this but the scripting and story work is deserved of equal praise. Alongside this grittier content, the spectacle and entertainment factor are great. As funny as the actors are themselves, the script matches them, often a significant downside to a lot of modern comedies, and Jumanji provides a number of big laughs along the way. The set pieces as well capture the adventurous spirit of the film, an attitude rarely seen these days, the film capitalises on its comedy to expand on a gleeful expedition for the characters and an overall spirited romp. The “levels” aspect to the film also works in a clever way, too often action films float from set piece to set piece just for the sake of showing you some cool explosions, but Jumanji‘s video game factor plays in well here, it’s a rather meta and tongue-in-cheek way of presenting the desired story. Who knew the secret to a good video game movie was to just admit that it’s a video game?!
The addition of Bobby Cannavale as the film’s villain isn’t anything special, neither is the inclusion of Nick Jonas’ Jefferson, Rhys Darby gets a couple of scenes to do his stuff but isn’t used to his full strengths unfortunately. But ultimately the negatives pale in comparison to the sheer magnitude of Jumanji‘s entertainment value. You’ll be hard pressed to find a film that undercuts conventional expectations like Jumanji does, it’s among 2017’s most surprising releases and pretty much outshines any other video game movie of the past few years. Somebody for the love of God give Jack Black an Oscar.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017), directed by Jake Kasdan, is distributed in the UK by Sony, certificate 12a.