Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, 2017.
Directed by Jake Kasdan.
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillen, Bobby Cannavale, Nick Jonas, Rhys Darby, Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner, and Ser’Darius Blain.
When four very different school kids are given a detention, they happen upon an old video game console with the mysterious Jumanji cartridge. They suddenly find themselves sucked into the world of Jumanji, where they take the form of their selected avatars; Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart), Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black), and Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillen), and must learn to work together in order to complete the game and return to the real world.
Dusting off a board game that has remained unopened since the enjoyable, if hardly a groundbreaking stomping-rhino classic in the form of 1995 Robin Williams summer vehicle Jumanji, wasn’t exactly what audiences were demanding. In this age of reboots and sprawling franchises, did we really want a video game upgrade starring the omnipresent Dwayne Johnson? It turns out the answer is a resounding “yes”, with Welcome to the Jungle being the most surprising film you’ve pressed start on in 2017.
The reason Jake Kasdan’s jungle romp works is largely because it never takes itself too seriously. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle knows exactly what it is, sets the rules accordingly, and pulls the ripcord on an adventure littered with belly-laughs and an overriding sense of fun. It’s the kind of simple entertainment that you’d find scattered around the multiplexes twenty years ago, and as a result will translate across the generational divide.
It helps that the avatars selected to portray our gamers are a combination of actors reminding us why you liked them in the first place, and Karen Gillen, announcing herself out side of the Marvel universe by stealing the movie as the best version of Lara Croft you’ll ever see on the big screen. She’s funny, completely self-aware, and in a scene in which she’s taught to flirt by Jack Black’s Freaky Friday explorer, gets to flex her funny bone, whilst tickling yours.
As the schoolgirl inside a middle-aged man’s body, Black is like, so the best he has been in years. Reveling in the chance to ham it up as a character poking fun at himself. The same appraisal can be applied to Kevin Hart, so often just thrown into a film in order ad-lib high pitch noise for laughs, that’s reigned in here, giving him the chance to create a likeable personality, who’s annoying in a good way. Then there’s Dwayne Johnson, whose last attempt at comedy was the low-water mark of the year, Baywatch, but here strikes all the right notes as a the self-deprecating action hero, whose special power is the hilarious ability to smolder.
On that note, the computer game elements are all neatly woven into the story; the three lives, their individual powers, the incrementally difficult levels, meta cut-scenes, and the end of level boss (a largely underused Bobby Cannavale). They’re all thrown together in a giddy mix of chase scenes, dance fighting to Big Mountain (you’ll see), and an ensemble chemistry that really works.
For the Monopoly playing style sticklers amongst you, there might be a few wobbly pieces of CG to grumble at, but that could be leveled at the original too, and anyway, it all adds to the animated Looney Toons style of the entire movie.
Who’d have thought that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle would be a movie you look forward to playing over-and-over again?
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★