Friday, December 29, 2017

Movie Review: "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" (2017)

Director: Jake Kasdan
Year: 2017
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 59 minutes

A group of high school students serving detention discovers a video game called "Jumanji" that, when being played, sucks them into its jungle universe. The only way to get out is to win the game.

It has been 22 years since the release of the original "Jumanji." Despite being critically panned, that movie found great success at the box office. We have to wonder why it took so long for a sequel to be released, and it turns out, it actually didn't. The 2005 film "Zathura" was a spiritual sequel to "Jumanji," and though it received a better response from critics, it was a box office flop. Now, enough time has passed and Hollywood believes it is now able to retool "Jumanji" for a whole new generation. It doesn't hurt that this long-oft sequel has an all-star cast including the likes of Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, and even Nick Jonas. The movie picks up right where the original left off with the Jumanji board game washed up on a beach. A man jogging finds it one day and gives it to his son, who promptly asks the question, "who plays board games anymore?" In an effort to survive, the magical board game transforms into a video game which, when being played, sucks the player into the world of Jumanji. Now, decades later, four students who are very different from each other named Spencer, Fridge, Bethany, and Martha, played by Alex Wolff,  Ser'Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, and Morgan Turner, find themselves serving detention at their high school. They discover the Jumanji video game in the basement, play it, and get sucked into the jungle world of Jumanji. Also, instead of being brought to this world as themselves, they have morphed into the bodies of the avatars they selected when starting the game. The only way out of this strange land is to win the game before they each lose all three of their lives.

We weren't exactly huge fans of the original "Jumanji," so it's not surprising that we weren't excited to see this sequel. We are happy to say we wound up enjoying "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle." Director Jake Kasdan manages to create a very fun sequel that is actually better than its predecessor. This is due in large part to its stellar, energetic cast. Each actor does a splendid job in their respective roles. Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson may look like a hulking adventurer on the outside (his name is Smolder Bravestone), but on the inside, he is actually the nerdy hypochondriac named Spencer. Johnson is charming as always, and much like the rest of characters gets to play a little against type. Giant football player Fridge gets stuck in the body of Kevin Hart, which allows Hart to really lean into his self-deprecating but arrogant and sometimes obnoxious comedic style that has made him the star he is today. Jack Black gets to play Bethany, the social media-obsessed self-centered teenage girl who is now stuck in the body of a middle-aged overweight man. As cooky as it sounds, it's downright hilarious at times, especially when Jack Black has to teach Karen Gillan how to flirt with all her might to save their butts. And speaking of Karen Gillan, she gets to be the scantily clad stereotypical female video game character on the outside while being Martha, a modest, introverted feminist on the inside. This leaves room for important social commentary in an otherwise lighthearted popcorn flick. Other key figures in the movie include the aforementioned Nick Jonas as in-game character Alex, and Rhys Darby as Nigel, the group's non-player character driver. Bobby Cannavale also stars as the primary antagonist Van Pelt, which brings us to the biggest issue with the film. He's a completely disposable video game villain who is actually easier to defeat than it seems. Cannavale mainly stands around with a weird CGI'ed eye and has bugs crawling in and out of his ears, nose, and mouth manically shouting at his henchmen. He's a pretty boring villain, but hey, at least he was in a movie that was a hit this year, right?

"Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" was a huge surprise for us. The story itself is simple, but Kasdan and his team of five writers manage to integrate elements from video games that play out in a really entertaining way on screen. Add that to the fantastic chemistry of the leads, an excellent selection of music, and a couple of truly memorable scenes and this flick winds up being a whole heck of a lot of fun despite needing to be about 10 minutes shorter.


My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 77%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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