There is an appropriate hesitation that should be reserved for rebooting or prolonged sequels to sacred classics. For every Blade Runner you get an Indiana Jones and when it was announced that there would be a “sequel” to Jumanji, scepticism was the correct approach. The first Jumanji is a flawed classic but a huge part of people’s childhood so how could anyone dare add to the movie?
Luckily, Welcome to the Jungle manages to build-upon what was established in the first movie without tarnishing anything that went before. What it does instead, as any prolonged sequel should, is bring the movie directly into the 21st Century with a story which involves technology and references that today’s audiences would relate to instead.
It is a clever development for the Jumanji-idea. With the realisation that nobody plays board-games anymore, Jumanji “transfers” itself into a video-game and through a series of random events, manages to suck four very different children into the game and consequently into the jungle that was always the theme of Jumanji. This isn’t where the video game references end though.
Jumanji is very good at references to the key aspects of video-games and making them a very significant part of the story. Losing lives, special skills and levels or quests all play their part and although it is never so insular that it alienates any viewers, anyone with at least a passing interest in video games will get something from the many references. This includes the characters themselves too.
This is where Jumanji plays it’s master-stroke. Each of the teenagers that found the video-game choose an avatar and then find themselves inhabiting characters against their “type.” This means that stereotypical social-network addicted teenager Bethany becomes Jack Black, the weedy geeky Spencer becomes Dwayne Johnson and his large, athletic counterpart becomes Kevin Hart. This leaves the shy, lacking-in-confidence Martha to inhabit the kick-ass body of Karen Gillan.
So far, so cliche, but the magic is in the way the individual actors play their roles. Dwayne Johnson plays a weedy boy in a man’s muscular body fantastically, tapping into a comedy ability that is showing itself more and more with each and every role. This goes for Kevin Hart, who plays a familiar character to most of his films but still has some of the funnier moments and funnier lines, also developing on his chemistry with Johnson from Central Intelligence. Karen Gillan grows as a character, from the shy girl unable to flirt (hilarious scenes see her try) into the man-beating, action star that sees her play such a pivotal part of the Marvel Universe.
The MVP is Jack Black though. Jumanji seems to bring “classic Jack Black” to the screen, with a comedy performance that highlights why he was such a huge star. He plays a shocked, upset teenage girl better than you would ever imagine a middle-aged over-weight man should and makes for some of the funniest moments. The fact you forget it is Jack Black playing Bethany rather than Bethany trapped inside Jack Black is a testament to his performance.
The comedy is covered then and in fact is probably the main focus of the movie. It is a much funnier film that the original Jumanji that focused more on adventure and mild-scares than tickling the funny bone. This is a film starring Dwayne Johnson though so action is covered comfortably. It is a film which never gives up the pace. It goes from out-running stampedes, to motorbike battles, to angry, hungry hippos through to an exciting set-piece that plays to all the key characters strengths. It tells a clear story which is complimented well by the action. It even tugs on the heart-strings with an unexpected addition by Nick Jonas.
You can’t quite get away from the cliches in some cases though and it is fairly clear where the adventure is going and the direction of the story. It still follows familiar beats for any family-adventure, just in a very effective and very funny way. It brings Jumanji up-to-date in a very clever way but in some ways, still tells the same, familiar story.
Overall, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a successful sequel which manages to build on the original movie and also bring it well up-to-date. There is plenty for older fans and audiences new to the series to enjoy, especially the key performances and the thrilling action. Just maybe leave it at this now though…
Rating – 4
(1 – AWFUL, 2 – AVERAGE, 3 – GOOD, 4 – GREAT, 5! – MUST SEE)
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