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Review: Jumanji – Welcome to the Jungle

Achievement unlocked: yet another “modernised” reboot of a well-loved film

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I’m going to be honest here, I liked the original Jumanji— it’s just such a classic 90’s movie (I’m looking at you, bad CGI). I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s not exactly a cinematic masterpiece, but the nostalgia that’s attached to the beloved original is something that means I’ll be sure to watch it in years to come. That being said, I wasn’t too sure what to expect from Welcome to the Jungle. Was a sequel really needed? Or was this just another cash-grabbing scheme from some big Hollywood studio?

Welcome to the Jungle begins twenty years after the 1995 Jumanji, centring around four stereotypical high-school American teenagers; the nerd (Spencer), the jock (Fridge), the popular girl (Bethany), and the shy one (Martha). Stuck in a Breakfast Club-like detention, they find Jumanji (which has now conveniently been converted into a video-game cartridge).

Upon further inspection, they find that one character is unplayable, so settle on playing as other characters. This results in the four being transported into the game, as opposed to the original movie in which the game wreaks havoc in the real world. In “game-world,” the high schoolers have transformed into their chosen characters and soon discover that they only have three lives.

Perhaps one of the best things about this movie is the ensemble cast. Four actors who are well-known for one reason or another, put into one film is a sure-fire way to create some buzz around the movie. And it pays off. Spencer transforms into Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Fridge turns into a zoologist (played by Kevin Hart) whereas Martha (Karen Gillan) becomes a “killer of men”. Yet it’s the character of Bethany that is the most comical; the preppy girl transforms into “overweight middle-aged man” Jack Black. It is entirely feasible that the reason the movie was enjoyable was simply due to the well-known and liked cast — which also includes a Jonas Brother (it’s Nick, in case you’re wondering).

Johnson and Hart — who previously co-starred in Central Intelligence (2016) — continue to show that they have great comedic chemistry together. Their scenes together were hilarious, if a little clichéd at times. As always, Hart’s short height is also made fun off, many times. Gillan humorously plays a bumbling, naïve teen girl convincingly that costume controversy is also addressed). However, the true comic of the film is most definitely Jack Black portraying a stereotypical self-obsessed “where’s my phone” teenage girl.

Black does an excellent job in finding a balance; the character is not too comical with an overly high-pitched voice (as what would be expected) nor too featureless which would make him an easily forgettable character in the star-studded film. Every scene in which his Freaky Friday-like body-swap is played up is fun, and surprisingly does not get annoying for the whole two hours of the movie. Yes, some humour is overly predictable, but Jack Black makes it seem effortless and worthwhile.

Although the drum beat, the jungle wildlife, and villainous Van Pelt are all features that were kept from the original Jumanji, it was the brief Robin Williams tribute that was the most welcome and bittersweet. It was a simple yet effective; the characters find the words “Alan Parrish was here,” etched into the wooden beams of a hut he had built whilst stuck in the jungle. In the original Jumanji, Robin Williams played Alan Parrish, and this was a sincere, touching nod to his legacy.

Whilst the movie is visually stunning and makes every use of its Hawaiian location, for some, it could be seen as two hours of just that — really good scenery. It’s not an excessively long film, but at times there is just not a lot going on in terms of action or fantasy. The original 1995 Jumanji was action-packed and that deep drum beat was a sign of the horror the board game was about to unleash. Yet compared to the original, Welcome to the Jungle has little action in its entirety and even then, it’s more of a slight hindrance that’s quickly overcome with little exhilaration on the audience’s behalf.

In this sense, it can be seen as quite a bland movie which follows the generic Hollywood formula; characters given a quest, minor setbacks on the journey, throw in some jokes, quest completed, and everything is returned to its natural order (bonus points: there’s a deeper meaning behind it all such as “learning who you are, and who you want to be” or this other team-work quote that was far too banal to remember). Nonetheless, the movie did manage to exceed my (admittedly low) expectations.

All in all, Welcome to the Jungle can be viewed as a satire of video games that is more comic than action-packed. It’s a movie for families to watch together on a lazy Sunday afternoon and definitely something light-hearted to watch over the holiday period… or maybe as a time-wasting tactic to put off revision.

3/5