2017 contributed a lot to the world of movies. But it was also the year that defined the idea of sequels that we never asked for but we got them anyway. I never recall asking for Blade Runner 2049, T2: Trainspotting, XXX: The return of Xander Cage and Rings but we got them anyway. That’s not to judge these movies quality as those reviews for another time. But one movie I really do not recall asking for was a sequel to the cult film Jumanji. However, after finally giving it a watch I would like to say that Jumanji is one of those rare sequels that I never asked for and is way better than it has any right to be.
The story concerns a group of four teens, a nerdy guy, an awkward alternative girl, a phone-obsessed popular girl and a typical jock who during detention are told to clean up one of the school’s basements. As they do they find an old video game console with one game to play, Jumanji. After they begin to play out of boredom the kids are sucked into the game and are each the stuck in the bodies of an inappropriate avatar. The nerd becomes musclebound Dwayne Johnson, the awkward girl becomes the intentionally appealing Karen Gillan, the jock becomes stumpy Kevin Hart and the popular girl becomes Jack Black. Now they have to try to get home by completing the game before they run out of lives.
From the setup, it would be very easy to dismiss this as nothing more than throwaway entertainment and to some extent it is. There’s nothing in the story that you have not seen a hundred times before, and there’s very little that you will not see coming from a mile away. The main villain is also completely superfluous and hardly impacts the proceedings at all, to the point where I would forget that he was actually in the film and the CG work ranges from good to really quite poor which can pull people out of the experience.
With that being said, what is here is a surprisingly funny, well judged and in some ways a quite subversive popcorn blockbuster. Everyone in the cast performs their roles well. The teen actors themselves do not do anything more than what is expected of them, but all perform their roles adequately and they all invest a decent amount of heart in the segments where they need to. But this film undoubtedly belongs to the four main players. Johnson, Hart, Gillan and Black all do really admirably in their respective roles and bounce off each other with ease, leading to some very funny scenes that feel really natural.
Gillan and Black are the clear standouts. Gillan continues to play against the typical Hollywood leading lady role, investing her character with a clear sense of awkwardness and inexperience (appropriate, given who she is the avatar for) that is really refreshing to see and Black plays the role of a teenage girl trapped in the body of Jack Black with surprising tact. Add to that the fun of seeing “The Rock” playing a sensitive type and Kevin Harts usual brand of high pitched snark and you have a movie that is a true riot to watch. It would be very easy for all of these characters to become really annoying and in some cases possibly offensive but everyone plays their part with a knowing sense of self-awareness that helps the audience know that the actors are having fun and that you should too.
What’s more the film has a great deal of fun poking fun at video game tropes, including jokes about NPC’s, level progression, checkpoints and in particular Gillan’s status as the only girl in the game which means, of course, her outfit is entirely inappropriate for the environment and a good few jokes are aimed at the common tropes of video game heroines. This makes this movie more fun to watch for gamers than any movie actually based on a video game.
In some places, there are even a few surprises. Initially, before release, the movie stirred up controversy for the way Gillan’s Character was portrayed as a sex object in the marketing, but the fact that the movie goes out of its way to undercut the typical Hollywood eye candy tropes is quite respectable. The movie is also surprising when it comes to the Jack Black character. There are several moments when a lesser movie would have dealt with certain subjects this film brings up in a very uncomfortable way, possibly going for easy, inappropriate jokes but surprisingly those jokes aren’t made and deal with proceedings in a somewhat mature way.
The action scenes are a lot of fun. While it is easy in today’s blockbuster world to become desensitised to the typical big special effects showcase action scenes the film does a good job escalating the stakes to that point and continually does new stuff with the type of creatures and landscapes you can find in a jungle setting.
Finally, if you are wondering, no you do not have to have seen the original Jumanji in order to enjoy this film. There are a few Easter eggs sprinkled here and there for the fans but as a whole, this can be considered a good self-contained sequel, that updates the game and aims to parody rather than enthral, but can still surprise.
In summary, while it is nothing ground-breaking, the plot can seem tired and there are several aspects that really needed polishing up, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle makes up for its flaws by aiming to have a lot of fun with itself. The actors all commit to their roles and the four lead stars make the runtime fly by as they deliver great jokes, with a good amount of self-awareness and excellent chemistry. The lampooning of gaming tropes make this a pleasant watch for anyone who has an appreciation for videogames and in some ways the film can be viewed as quietly progressive in its own way. If you need to escape for an afternoon and just want to enjoy a better than average popcorn film then you can definitely do much worse. I can really see this becoming a guilty pleasure for a new generation.