Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is the eagerly awaited sequel to 1995’s Jumanji with the late Robin Williams. Over twenty years later, Jumanji has gone from being a board game that sucks the players into another dimension to an arcade game that does the same thing. In the sequel four high schoolers are sent to detention for various offences and they could not be more different personalities. You have the football jock, Fridge (Ser’Darius Blane), the nerd, Spencer (Alex Wolff), the prima-donna, Bethany (Madison Iseman) and another nerd, Martha (Morgan Turner). When they are all sent to the basement for detention, they stumble upon Jumanji, the video game. Once their avatars are picked, they are all sucked into the world of Jumanji.
Now, in the wrong hands, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle could have been a complete disaster. But since Jake Kasdan (son of the legendary writer and director Lawrence Kasdan) is directing I felt a little easier about this film. Jake Kasdan has followed in the footsteps of his father but has really shown he is his own man creating great films like Zero Effect and Orange County. He is still young and is learning but Jake has come a long way. With Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, he has created a familiar but very enjoyable film that relies on characters and developing those characters into as real a people as he can. I mean we are talking about a video game so they can only be so real.
The early stages of this film are crucial to setting up the film’s avatars, later. If we don’t believe the high school characters, you won’t believe their avatars, either. So as thankless as they may seem, the roles of the high schoolers although very small, must be convincing for the viewers or the rest of the film is meaningless. When they are sucked into the game they must understand their avatars, deal with their own issues and win the game to just get home. The nerdy Spencer arrives in Jumanji as Dwight “The Rock” Johnson, Fridge is now Kevin Hart, Martha is now played by Karen Gillan and Bethany is now played by Jack Black. Yes, you read that correctly. The original Jumanji was a bit more serious than this film, but wisely the filmmakers have opted for a lighter approach and it was a good choice.
Aside from the routine escapades from the game itself, I was interested in these characters. All playing against their type, the best is Jack Black as a high school prima-donna. He is simply hilarious. There is scene after scene in which Black steals the show. They are all funny and believable but Black really shines, here. Writers Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner have given these characters depth and a lot of fun situations to react to. That is where Jumaji: Welcome to the Jungle is at its best. The plot of rescuing a jewel and placing it in the head of a statue of a panther to save Jumanji from destruction is filler, more or less. The main villain is a man named Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) and he is your standard one dimensional villain. Anyone could have played him and he is given limited screen time. Fortunately, this film is about the four lead characters and their transformation as characters and on that level Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle works.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – ***1/2 out of 4
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – Rated PG-13 for language, sexual situations, innuendos and violence
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – Run time is 120 minutes
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is now available on DVD, On Demand and pay subscription services. Check your listings for availability and pricing.