I wrote this review last since this movie doesn’t come out for another week (Dec. 20th) and also because this was the movie I enjoyed the most out of all the ones I saw this weekend. Weird, right? Let’s get this out of the way JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE is not a remake of Jumanji, it is most definitely a sequel and there are two instances in the film where they prove that it is indeed so and not a remake (you can still consider it a very minor reboot considering it’s been over 20 years since the last one.) I knew it was a sequel going in. What I didn’t know was how much fun I was going to have with it. I came out of it really admiring and enjoying most of the film and while it doesn’t touch the brilliance of the original, the films fortunately is somewhat of its own animal and has just enough stamina to watch them both back to back for many years to come.
Also, did I mention this is Jack Black’s best role since School of Rock? He completely steals the movie, but we’ll get back to that in a bit. The movie starts with four wildly different classes of teenagers all sent to detention. When they are cleaning out a school storage room they find an old video game system with a Jumanji videogame cartridge stuck inside (don’t worry, they show how it transformed from a board game into a video game, the movie knows not to try and pull a fast one, although it can be argued that board games are now back in style). They each pick and avatar and get sucked into the game, where they are still themselves, only in their avatars body. The avatars look a lot like Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillen, Kevin Hart, and Jack Black. Together they must not only try to find a way out of the game, but play by the games rules and save Jumanji from a vicious overlord.
I’ll get more out of the way here, the story isn’t really too deep when it involves saving Jumanji, but then again, when you think back on it, did the original have much of a story other than making it to the end of the game? The first film relied on Robin Williams’ performance, the relationship between him and his own flame, and his relationship with the kids that helped him escape from the game in the first place, and a nasty ass hunter coming after him to kill him. This one is more about the relationships between the four kids that have drastically different social backgrounds and how they can overcome their differences and work together. All the while trying to reach the end of the game. While the movie adds in a baddie overlord played by Bobby Cannavale, that wants to rule the jungle in the form of a green crystal that has powers that needs to be restored to a lion’s eye carving at the top of the mountain…those two aspects are the stalest/weakest thing about the film. I didn’t care about the villain and he wasn’t that scary or vicious to me, and I certainly didn’t give two shits about the crystal.
The movie hinges on the relationship between the four kids/avatar’s, and that is what made the most enjoyable and outstanding. Again, as I’ve said before, it is the journey that matters here, not the ultimate end game. The chemistry between Johnson, Gillen, Hart, and Black is so fantastic here that I could’ve watched them in the jungle a lot longer than the hour and 50 minute runtime. Dwayne Johnson shows a little bit more range here than he does in his past several macho guy roles, Kevin Hart is actually tolerable in this film (and that’s praise considering I don’t like his comedy all that much), Karen Gillen proves that she is so much more than Nebula and Amy Pond, but it is Jack Black that steals the show.
See, two of the four kids that get sucked into the game are girls, and there are three boy avatars and one girl one. So the pretty popular girls becomes Jack Black, and although you could’ve gotten a lot of cheap laughs (don’t worry you still do) of Jack Black playing a woman, the way he does it and they way he looks really into it made the movie just a little more special than it should. Every time he came on screen and opened his mouth I just had a huge smile on my face and couldn’t wait to see what happened with him next.
The film also plays on videogame rules and tropes such as how many lives you get, strengths and weaknesses, objectives, tasks, so on and so forth, which were highly enjoyable to watch. While the action scenes aren’t phenomenal, it was nice to see that they actually filmed on location for a lot of the scenes rather than have everything and anything being shot green screen and inside a studio. Yes, there are a couple of awkward CGI moments, but they are few and far between, and considering what kind of film this is, it makes the CGI in Justice League look that much worse.
I had a lot of fun with Jumanji 2. It isn’t going to win any awards this holiday season, its a film where you are just meant to go in, shut your brain off, and have some fun. There is several different kinds of fun. There is, dumb fun, bad fun, smart fun, dumb bad fun, and dumb smart fun. I would definitely put this film in the latter. And while this is a PG-13 movie, I would say it is okay for the whole family, and I definitely recommend it to those cautioned people that hold the original too closely to their hearts to warrant even caring about this one. It is actually very good, and very fun, and that’s the most we should expect from movies like this. I can’t wait to visit this jungle again when it hits disc in a couple of months.