Director: Jake Kasdan
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillian, Kevin Hart, Bobby Cannavale, Alex Wolff
Plot: A group of unruly kids in detention get sucked into a video game and put into the bodies of video game characters.
In a lot of ways, I am surprised that there hasn’t been a Jumanji follow-up before. While most reboots of popular movies are met with an eye-roll, there is something about Jumanji that actually screams “use me!” The idea of a board game coming to life and throwing the trapped players into battles with supernatural jungle critters is the kind of concept that can be recycled a few times and throw something new at the players on each instalment. So, when an all-star cast stepped forward, in their own wacky Jumanji remake, I was eager to see what director Kasdan had done with the movie.
The end result is a movie firmly down to the cast. The four leads are, simply put, brilliant. While the film takes its time introducing the teenage stereotypes to lay out the plot (Kasdan literally copies and pastes the script of Breakfast Club at certain beats), when it gets to the fictional world of Jumanji, the board game evolving into a video game to maximum its potential victims, we get the four real leads handed to us. Dwayne Johnson is the kind of actor that literally gives forth this idea of a safe pair of hands. Johnson has been a lot of lesser movies, but he has never been the problem with them, in fact, often coming across as the one reason to stick around. He is the life-line of film producers everywhere. It makes it even more pleasing when a script actually keeps up with him, one realising that Johnson is the ideal actor to parody the hulking male hero figure. Here, Johnson might play the usual punch-first hero, but the key difference is that a scared nerd is trapped inside him. Cue Johnson marvelling at where his muscles came from or being socially awkward, despite being the most handsome man in the jungle. Dwayne Johnson must have laughed out loud at this script and accepted it in a heartbeat. Switching the nerd to hero on its head, next we get the school jock trapped in the body of Kevin Hart. Hart is closer to his comfort zone here, a short motormouth who hasn’t realised he isn’t as strong and as fast as everyone else yet. It doesn’t make his addition to the movie any less fun, closer to Kasdan wisely choosing the actor who can bring the part to life the most. It helps Hart and Johnson are firm friends, so their chemistry just sparkles on-screen. I have always been a fan of Karen Gillian, who often can be found at the corners of A List cast, confidently holding her ground. Jumanji sees her step closer to the lead role and, even if she isn’t at her best here, you must admit how safe a bet she is seeming herself. That American accent is faultless and she balances the action with the comedy well. As Gillian gets to experience her own Jason Bourne moment (realising she can kick ass, while she is kicking ass), you have to appreciate the actress’s talents. There is also an amazing scene where Gillian, her bad-ass heroine host to the school oddball, learns to flirt for the first time, a scene Gillian grabs with two hands and completely sells to the audience. But star of the show is, without a shadow of a doubt, Jack Black. The set-up, in itself, is golden. While the other teenagers are trapped in the opposites of themselves, Jack Black’s body finds itself home to the school popular girl, first seen spending a solid ten minutes on a single selfie. It gives Black the kind of meaty role that makes you laugh without hardly trying. Black will be fighting through the jungle, while mourning the loss of his phone. His quips are divine. It is just the tone of voice Black uses to add another dimension to every joke. He is easily the fan favourite here and we have a movie where we can easily just lean back and watch Jack Black embody an eighteen year old, self-obsessed brat.
But, oddly enough, that is Jumanji’s biggest weakness, as well as its strength. This is a film that has four amazingly funny actors on its hands and sort of forgets to be anything else. You are essentially given two hours of the four of them milking their predicament for all its worth. And it feels odd to complain about this, because it is remarkably amusing spending time with them just doing their thing. But where is our Jumanji movie? The jungle sort of slips into the background of the movie. There are remnants of a plot, including Bobby Cannavale, supplying the OTT video game villain, and gripping set-pieces with fearsome Jaguars, stampeding Rhinos and a pool of Crocodiles. But over time, probably over the course of a few reworked drafts, these set-pieces faded to the background of the director’s mind. It now feels like a star vehicle, so worried about the lasting power of Jumanji that it has relied too much on Dwayne Johnson’s safe pair of hands. The consensus of this review is that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a great movie. But it’s not a Jumani movie.
Final Verdict: Much like Thor: Ragnarok, Jumanji doesn’t provide the film you want, but a comedic romp through a blockbuster. Great fun, but missing the core principals of the franchise.