"You're all here for a reason. You should be thinking about who you are and who you want to be."
Rebooting a movie like ‘Jumanji’ gives me hope that Hollywood might just have started to see sense when it comes to remakes/reboot. With all respect to the late and great Robin Williams, 1995’s ‘Jumanji’ is no classic, being a fun kid’s film at best. If anything, like a lot of kid’s films from the 1990s, pondering over the possible existential dilemmas of the plot is more fun than the actual film itself. Basically, it’s a movie that leaves room for improvement and adaptation, so a remake might not be the worst idea ever.
Four high school kids discover an old video game console and are drawn into the game's jungle setting, literally becoming the adult avatars they chose, Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillian), Professor Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black) and Franklin Finbar (Kevin Hart). To beat the game and return to the real world, they embark on a dangerous adventure.
First and foremost, has there ever been a more appropriate name for a character played by The Rock than Smolder Bravestone? That’s obviously a rhetorical question because there the answer is clearly no. There never has been and quite frankly I don’t think humanity will ever reach this height again. With that conclusively proves I find myself well and truly surprised at just how entertaining ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ is. Not only do I think it’s an improvement over the original, but it’s a genuinely fun action adventure comedy.
I think without question, the strongest aspect of the movie has to be its cast. I regret to say that Kevin Hart remains locked into his usual tropes when it comes to his performance, but his co-stars are all having great fun in how they play against type. Being a modern teenage girl trapped in the body of a middle aged man opens a lot of opportunities for comedy, and Jack Black takes as many of those opportunities as he can to great effect. Karen Gillian also does very well at playing a character who is clearly loving every minute of being the badass action heroine.
But it has to be said that it’s Dwayne Johnson who steals the show. Johnson has a knack for being the best part of almost any movie he is in through perpetually exuding charisma. But in ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ he not only stands out as the usual action hero we’re used to, but he gets to spend the first half of the movie playing someone who is terrified of his surroundings. Not only is it hilarious to watch him reacting to everything in a way that so heavily contrasts with his tough guy physique, but it also gives the actor a solid arc to work with in which he has to put aside his fear.
The cast also share a really good dynamic, which is down to both the time they spend on screen and the time during which we see their real life teenage selves interact. By establishing a clear personality and dynamic between the four teenagers before they enter the game, it gives the main cast some good characterisations to work with and further develop. It’s hilarious to watch that dynamic be subverted as each teenager finds themselves out of their comfort zone, quite literally.
I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anyone that the plot of ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ is fairly standard. It’s decent enough and is well paced, but is also very clearly an excuse to move the characters from one action sequence to another. That being said though, isn’t the average video game plot also just a means to get the player from one playable sequence to the next? So does that make the plot weirdly meta in a certain sense? Whether you think the film is that self aware or not, the narrative does exactly what it needs to do and nothing more.
The action sequences themselves are also inventive enough. Though director Jake Kasdan doesn’t frame his action scenes with a great deal of flair, they’re clear enough to be engaging. He keeps the tone light and perpetually moves with a consistent visual style. There are quite a few poorly composited CGI and green screen shots, especially towards the third act climax (because that seems to be the fashion with movies nowadays) but they don’t sink the action. It also doesn’t help that the third act tries to add some narrative weight to proceedings but at this point in the movie I honestly didn’t care. The plot and conflict had been generic to this point so suddenly placing emphasis on the seriousness of the plot is a weak attempt to make me feel more invested. But when all is said and done, the fact that this movie entertained me to the degree it did is a welcome surprise.
‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ may have its flaws, but thanks to a good cast performance it’s so much more entertaining than it had any right to be.