Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Review
The board game movie gets a video game update with a body-swap twist in this unashamedly bombastic reboot
Joe Johnston’s 1995 Jumanji took a bunch of kids, transported them to a magical world full of perils and had a big, brash and mildly amusing time with it.Jake Kasdan’s 2017 Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle takes a bunch of kids, transports them to a magical world full of perils, turns them into human avatars and has a big brash and mildly amusing time with it. Where the 90s film used a board game as the plot device, 2017’s version is slightly updated with a video game that pulls four teenagers into its virtual realm. Presumably in 20 years there’ll be another Jumanji, with a virtual reality game that has magical pulling powers. Dated video game technology aside, the film takes the concept of the original film and adds a modernising twist.This time around, the teenage characters take the form of adult humans, and must complete the tasks to escape the world of Jumanji as these avatars. This is a great choice for a number of reasons; not least because it means we don’t have to watch children be shot, killed or objectified (is there any reason Karen Gillan’s character runs around the jungle in a crop top and hot pants, while the male characters are clad in multiple destination-appropriate layers?). It also means an A-list cast gets the humorous job of pretending to be overgrown teenagers, to surprisingly funny effect.
In the ‘real world’, nerdy Spencer (Alex Wolff), jock Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), vain Bethany (Madison Iseman) and introvert Martha (Morgan Turner) are thrown into detention, and before long abandon their assigned task to play the mysterious Jumanji video game. They are pulled by an unexplained force into the game, and transformed into their avatars to live out the game irl (as the kids would say).
Spencer is Dr Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Fridge is Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart), Martha is Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and Bethany is Professor Shelley Oberon (Jack Black). Part of the film’s humour comes in the disparity between the real-life teens and their virtual characters, and there’s a lot of body-swap humour to be enjoyed (or endured).
The film is generally pretty fun and very silly, if quite pointless and unassuming. It’s unlikely to win many awards or become a cult classic, but it’s a perfectly fine way to spend a semi-entertaining afternoon.
Those of you familiar with video games will understand some of the conventions employed here – each character gets three lives, and the group has a series of pre-determined tasks to complete and obstacles to overcome before they can win/escape. There’s some fun to be had with the introduction of NPC (non-player character) Nigel (Rhys Darby), and the introduction of Jefferson McDonough (Nick Jonas), the avatar of a player who has been trapped in the game for quite some time.
It won't win any awards or become a cult classic, but it’s a perfectly fine way to spend an afternoon
Given the almost-meta video-game references, one could suggest that Ruby’s costume (as we’ve mentioned, it’s made up of very little) could be a satirical look at the way Lara Croft et al have traditionally been clothed in video games, but the script isn’t clever enough to assume this is the case, and it’s certainly not clever enough to convey this in any way. And really, all it means is that Gillan ends up wearing at least 60% less clothing than all the other actors on-screen. Elsewhere, the ‘believe in yourself’, ‘it’s what’s inside that counts’ message is corny, and clichéd and a bit grating, but that’s Hollywood. And it is Christmas, after all.
Ultimately the film works because a talented cast of charmingly funny actors get to play kids trapped in adult bodies; there’s enough time for some endearing, if fleeting, moments of exposition and character growth, and of course by the end everyone’s learned a little bit about themselves, which is nice. Less touching, but much more funny, are the scenes in which Bethany has to get to grips with being stuck inside the body of a rotund, middle-aged man; Black does his usual good work with a rich amount of physical and literal toilet comedy that’s simple enough to amuse children but well-executed enough to keep parents entertained, too.
All-in-all, this is a pretty inoffensive, fairly funny film that’s got a few nice lines, some big laughs and lots and lots (and lots) of cultural references and homages. This won’t make it onto any ‘Films of 2017’ lists – and not just because it’s mid-December; but it’s an enjoyable way to while away a few hours. This will be a fun-filled Boxing Day ITV2 film in years to come; it’s not a total cracker, but it’s far from a turkey.
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