“I’m an over-weight middle-aged man! Wait a second. Where’s my phone?!”
Rumours of a possible remake of the beloved 1995 jungle adventure Jumanji began swirling around online since 2012 and fans were less than enthused. However a lot of worries were eased when the Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, one of the biggest movie stars on the planet currently, announced he would be starring in a sequel to the original movie and not a remake as some feared which would be directed by Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Bad Teacher). Completing the impressive cast would be Jack Black, Karen Gillan and Kevin Hart and despite my apprehension of a cash-grabbing sequel capitalizing on a cherished classic, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a surprisingly charming, funny and action-packed film that honours the original while being its own entertaining and light-hearted escapade that the whole family can enjoy.
Welcome to the Jungle focuses on socially awkward gamer nerd Spencer (Alex Wolff), football jock Anthony (Ser’Darius Blain), self-centered popular girl Bethany (Madison Iseman) and timid, rebellious Martha (Morgan Turner) as four stereotypical teenagers who all find themselves stuck together in detention. Reluctant to do any work, Spencer discovers an old video game console which has a mysterious game called Jumanji in it. After choosing their game avatars, the four are suddenly sucked into the dangerous world of the game where they have three lives each and the only way out is to complete each level and ultimately find the fabled Jaguar’s Eye gem to win. Each teen has literally turned into the characters they chose before beginning the game to amusing results; Spencer is now the magnificently muscular Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Johnson), Anthony is now half his original size as diminutive zoologist Moose Finbar (Hart), Martha is now the impractically dressed yet highly lethal dance-fighting commando Ruby Roundhouse (Gillan) and Bethany is horrified to find herself as portly cartographer and archaeologist Professor Shelley Oberon (Black) and to make matters worse, she doesn’t have her phone. Each character each have their own strengths and weaknesses to hilarious effect and it’s great to see the cast, except somewhat predictably Hart, play against type. Spencer is awkward and clumsy in Bravestone’s body and Bethany is amazed to discover she now has a penis. Johnson and Black are in excellent form here and are incredibly amusing to watch as their natural charm and razor-sharp comedic timing combined with the fairly straight-forward yet tight script provide some delightfully consistent laughs. This is one of the best examples of excellent chemistry between actors in a movie this year and watching each actor fully commit to playing an awkward teenager trapped in their new bodies discovering their abilities is one of the most rewarding aspects of the film.
Welcome to the Jungle does not rely on the original to thrill which is refreshing to see in this age of remakes and reboots and manages to take the old board game and make it relevant once again and also carries a touching message of being true to yourself and the importance of friendship which admittedly is overdone in film these days and can be guilty of delving into cheesy territory but the movie manages to keep itself fairly grounded and believable in-between the impressive over-the-top action set-pieces which are a ton of fun within the whole video game angle. Each character having three lives each adds tension and despite Bobby Cannavale’s take on the evil Van Pelt being fairly disposable, he and his henchmen provide a solid obstacle for our heroes to overcome. The actors playing the real-world teens are also well-cast and seeing their stereotypes deconstructed is a joy to watch as they learn to work together in the treacherous jungle.
I’ll admit I was expecting very little from Welcome to the Jungle and the strong cast was what drew me to the project and it does end up being its strongest aspect. I ended up being pleasantly surprised and laughed consistently at Jumanji 2.0 and it’s a great alternative to The Last Jedi for families over the Christmas period financially should do well along with the early critical love it has been receiving. It’s nice to see Dwayne Johnson end his year on a high note not long after his disappointing venture into another nineties franchise with Baywatch. If you’re looking for an entertaining, rollicking adventure this month I highly recommend Welcome to the Jungle.
So until next time…
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