Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) Review
THE GAME HAS CHANGED
Jumanji: a game for those who seek to find, a way to leave their world behind. Released in 1995 and based on the children’s book by author Chris Van Allsburg, the movie Jumanji, which starred Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, and Kristen Dunst, followed siblings Judy and Peter Shepherd, who begin to play magical board game that has dire consequences. With the game manifesting its “roll of the dice” aesthetics into the real world, Judy and Peter, along with Alan Parrish, who was trapped in the game’s world for twenty-six years, and Sarah Whittle (Alan’s friend who witnessed him getting trapped in the game), must complete Jumanji in order to reverse the damage it has caused. Despite its mixed reviews from critics, Jumanji actually became a commercial box office success that year, earning roughly $262 million against its $65 million production budget as well as become the 10th highest grossing film in 1995. That following year, the story of Jumanji returned, but on the small screen (TV), returning as an animated series and continued the further adventures of Alan, Judy, and Peter. Although the show was mildly successful, lasting from 1996 to 1999 for three seasons (40 episodes in total) and a somewhat spiritual successor feature film was released 2005 titled Zathura: A Space Adventure, was also based on Chris Van Allsburg, it, despite its fame and popularity never received a proper sequel. Now, roughly twenty-two years since the release of the 1995 film, Columbia Pictures (i.e. Sony Pictures) and director Jake Kasdan present a standalone sequel to the original film with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Is this long-awaited follow-up adventure worth a glance or does it fail to impress its target audience and get lost in its own jungle?
Four different high schoolers, nerdy gamer Spencer Glipin (Alex Wolff), football jock Anthony “Fridge” Johnson (Ser’Darius Blain), self-absorbed popular girl Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman), and shy bookworm Martha Kalpy (Morgan Turner) find themselves serving detention together, for various reasons. While cleaning out a storage room (as their punishment) the four teenagers stumble upon a mysterious retro video game called Jumanji. Intrigued by it, Spencer and Fridge manage to convince Bethany and Martha to take a break from their meanly task and play the game with them. Once they all choosing their game characters, the four high schoolers magically get sucked into the world. Arriving inside the world of Jumanji, the teenagers quickly found out that they have transformed into their respective “chosen” characters, with Spencer becoming Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Fridge becoming Franklin “Moose” Finbar (Kevin Hart), Martha becoming Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillian), and Bethany becoming Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black). The quartet soon come to discover that they posses’ unique abilities with their own strengths / weaknesses as well as understanding the rules of being in a video game (i.e. having three lives before it’s game over). With no other choice and despite their differences, this foursome group is forced to work together, charged with completing a quest by removing the curse that has been placed on the world of Jumanji by the evil John Hardin Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale).
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Oh, Jumanji…what can I say about this movie. Being a 90s kid and watching a lot of kids’ TV shows and movies (both animated and / or live-action ones), I do remember watching Jumanji a ton. My grandmother owned the VHS of this (yes, I said VHS), so I would watch it a lot of times when I use to go over to her house. Even my brother and all my cousins would watch this movie with me as we would know the movie by heart…even quote it from time to time. Before ever seeing the movie, I do remember reading the original Jumanji book by Chris Van Allsburg, so I was kind of well-versed in the initial concept of the film, despite its theatrical changes for the feature film. In truth, in terms of entertainment, the movie Jumanji still holds up. Yes, some of the green screen effects for the film are considered “dated” by today’s standards, but the story of Allan Parrish, Sarah Whittle, and the Shepherd siblings (Judy and Peter) and the dangerous board game they play is one of the favorite and one of my memorable movies of childhood. I do remember that there was going to be an animated Jumanji show, but I briefly watched as I’ve only seeing maybe only like two episodes. As for Zathura: A Space Adventure, Jumanji’ s spiritual successor in both Van Allsburg original book and the film, I thought it was an okay /good kids’ movie. Though it couldn’t match the staying entertainment value as 1995’s Jumanji was able to capture, Zathura, which was directed by Jon Favreau and starred Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo, Kirsten Stewart, and Dax Shepherd, still was a very similar tone of a having a bunch of kids play at dangerous board game (switching the jungle setting of Jumanji for a science fiction one). All in all, Zathura was a modest kid-friendly spiritual sequel to Jumanji.
This, of course, brings me back around to my review for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Just like how the ending of 1995 Jumanji film left it sort of open for a possible standalone sequel (yeah, spoilers if you haven’t watched the film), many speculated for years (myself included) that Hollywood would eventually come around to producing a follow-up installment. It took them more than 20 years, but a Jumanji sequel as materialize with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. However, to be honest, I was that quite impressed with the news that Hollywood was gonna make a sequel to the beloved 1995 film, especially after scene the two theatrical trailers for this new 2017 film. Yes, I liked all the actors that were attached to them (Johnson, Hart, Gillian, Black), but the new film (judging by the movie trailers) didn’t feel like it was a good idea, especially if you take in account of all the recent long-awaited / belated sequels that failed to impress both critics and fans alike. Thus, it was really skeptical about Welcome to the Jungle, but I was still curious enough to see how this movie ultimately shaped up to be. So, I decided to see the movie in theaters to see if all the inherit hype for this (it was being toted as one of the big movies to see during the 2017 holiday season). So, what did I think of it? While the movie falters with its shallow narrative waters, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle succeeds in being mildly entertaining thanks to the movie’s cartoonish humor and its on-screen chemistry within the film’s four leads. In short, it’s made for today’s youngsters rather than nostalgia adults, which is both good and bad.
Welcome to the Jungle is directed by Jake Kasdan, whose previous directorial work includes films like Bad Teacher, Sex Tape, and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Interestingly, Kasdan and the film’s writers (Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers) presents this newest film by speaking to a more modern audience, updating the premise of “playing” the Jumanji game on a 90s style video game console rather than a board game (I’m mean…. millennials playing a board game does seem farfetched…lol). This also includes taking a different stab of actually playing “the game”, taking us (the viewers) inside the world of Jumanji and presenting a classic video game aesthetic (i.e. avatar characters, strengths / weaknesses, a player having three lives, a villainous bad guy, droves of unnamed henchmen, dangerous pitfalls for players to navigate through, etc.). Additionally, Kasdan, for the most part, keeps the movie light and kid-friendly, keeping the adventure of the four detention high schoolers, who are trapped inside a video game something entertaining for the tween crowd (i.e. nothing to scary nor violent), which keeps up the film’s rating PG-13. Kasdan also keeps the tale being told moving at a brisk pace, which makes the film’s runtime (a minute shy of being two hours long) go by fast. This means that Welcome to the Jungle a nonstop barrage of jokes, gags, and action style sequences, which again speaks to the younger generation of its viewers as well as making it a breezy and somewhat entertaining to watch (albeit a predictable narrative that unfolds).
In terms of filmmaking presentation, Welcome to the Jungle presents itself in a positive light, keeping up with the industry standards of a 2017 movie by means of usage of visual effects and its set layouts. Thus, certain production members, including Owen Paterson (Production Designs), Gyula Pados (Cinematography), and Laura Jean Shannon (Costume Designer) should be worth mentioning for their work on this project. Even the movie’s score, which was composed by Henry Jackman, is also worth noting, producing some rousing adventurous moments throughout the film, adding to the film’s action / dramatic moments.
Unfortunately, Welcome to the Jungle does stumble in certain areas, which makes the film falter from reaching greatness as a standalone sequel installment. For starters, this long-awaited follow-up feature lacks the dramatic / emotional substance that the original 1995 film was able to craft and invoke. Kasdan, as well as the film’s screenwriters, take a few avenues in the movie’s narrative at hitting some more emotional moments, but they never scratch the surface. Thus, the story’s plot seems a bit shallow, never developing beyond its initial premise. Despite the film taking a route of learning a moral lesson (i.e. working together), the film just feels hallow in comparison to the 1995 movie, which had more emotional / dramatic poignant scenes. Also, to be quite honest, I found that Welcome to the Jungle was no wear near as creepy as the original film. Yes, the original Jumanji movie wasn’t dark (by 90s standards), but it did have that those scary moments of when the game manifested itself into the real world by whatever piece it landed in the “roll of a dice” chance scenario. I mean, the scene with the spider or the lion…. that was pretty scary, especially to me when I was nine years old. Even today, the 1995 film is much more darker in comparison to this 2017 film. Thus, the scary level of actually “playing” the Jumanji game in Welcome to the Jungle doesn’t seem as impactful.
Additionally, the mythology of Jumanji is never fully exposed. Welcome to the Jungle gives viewers a chance to literally step into the world of Jumanji, but the movie never explores its fictional history, locales, and other nuances beyond what’s important to the film’s main narrative. This, of course, is a shame as I feel it misses an opportunity to expand upon the mythos of this jungle fantasy world. In conjunction with those ideas, the characters, despite being played solid actor, are, for the most part, underdeveloped in shown in a cookie cutter way of one standard trait. These means that these characters are not as interesting or intriguing or even fully developed than any of the characters presented in the original Jumanji film.
Perhaps one of the main highlights of the feature is found within the film’s cast as Welcome to the Jungle main leads are up to the task at making their performance memorable within the movie’s video game avatar context. Naturally, of the four, actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson gets the most prominent screen-time playing the Spencer’s Jumanji avatar Dr. Smolder Bravestone (archeologist and explorer. Johnson, known for his roles in San Andreas, Moana, and several films in the Fast & the Furious franchise, gives a humorous performance as Bravestone, providing the necessary star power found in a lead actor as well as channeling the classic action hero archetype and shy / awkward persona of Spencer. Next, comedian actor Jack Black proves to be the funniest in his portrayal of Bethany’s Jumanji avatar Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (cartographer and paleontologist). Known for his roles in Kung Fu Panda, School of Rock, and King Kong, Black has always been known for his comedy performance, but his performance in Welcome to the Jungle is a great one, especially since he plays a superficial teenage girl’s persona stuck inside a man’s body of which Black plays up hilariously.
Behind him is actress Karen Gillian, who plays Martha’s Jumanji avatar Ruby Roundhouse (commando and martial arts / dance fighter). Gillian, known for her roles in Guardians of the Galaxy, The Circle, and Doctor Who, Gillian does make a surprising memorable role as her character of Ruby Roundhouse, which channels a 90s era Lara Croft-esque archetype. Gillian also does good in crafting Martha’s shy personality into her character, which is suppose to be a deadly / beautiful female commando fighter. Lastly, comedian actor Kevin Hart, who plays Fridge’s Jumanji avatar Franklin “Moose” Finbar (zoologist and weapon specialist). Unfortunately, Hart, known for his roles in The Wedding Ringer, Ride Along, and Think Like a Man, seems to be the weak link (of the four leads) by means that he sticks to his per usual comedy angst / routine that many viewers have seeing his previous works (i.e. talking really fast and yelling a lot). That being said, much like their collaboration together in Central Intelligence, Hart does have a great on-screen chemistry with Johnson, which does show in most (if not all) scenes when the pair are share the screen in Welcome to the Jungle.
As for their teenage protagonist counterparts (Spencer, Fridge, Martha, and Bethany), the four youthful actors that were chosen do a good job in their respective roles. This includes Alex Wolff (My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 and Patriots Day) as the nerdy Spencer Glipin, Ser’Darius Blain (Survivor’s Remorse and Camp X-Ray) as the football jock as Anthony “Fridge” Johnson, Morgan Turner (Invincible and Remember Me) as the shy teenager Martha Kalpy, and Madison Iseman (Still the King and Laid in America) as superficial popular girl Bethany Walker. As accessible and commonplace are these high school architype personas, the problem is that the movie doesn’t give much time to them (the four young actors) beyond their initial character persona setup, which only bookends Welcome to the Jungle at the beginning and at the end of the film. Thus, their acting ability is not called into question, but rather their minimal on-screen time that makes them less impressionable in comparison to their Jumanji avatar actors.
Beyond the four main leads (and their teenage counterpart), actor / singer Nick Jonas plays the character of Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough (I.e. Alex Vreeke’s avatar character in Jumanji). Jonas, known for his roles in Jonas, Camp Rock, and Kingdoms, has that youthful swagger and easily conveys that in the movie. He actually plays an interesting plot point in the movie’s narrative, so I won’t give too much away about him. Suffice to say that Jonas is solid as Alex and work well when he’s on-screen with the other four leads, sharing a good on-screen chemistry with them. In the villain category, actor Bobby Cannavale plays the main antagonist of the film as the character of Russell Van Pelt. Known for his roles in Jasmine, Vinyl, and Spy, Cannavale has always done a great job in playing that villain bad guy in his filmography (see him in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire), so he’s a perfect fit for playing the baddie in Welcome to the Jungle. Plus, I did like how the used the name Van Pelt (aka…a nod back to the original film, with actor Jonathan Hyde playing the character of Van Pelt in that story). However, the character is written flat as a stereotypical video game bad guy. Whether that’s by design or just uninspiring / lazy writing, Van Pelt is just a generic baddie…complete with supernatural-ish powers. Even the film’s climatic ending fails to capture the true villainy of what Van Pelt could’ve been, which is a shame. Rounding out the cast (in minor supporting roles) are Rhys Darby (Pirate Radio and Yes Man) as a Jumanji NPC character of Billingsley and Marc Evans Jackson (Kong: Skull Island and The Good Place) as Principal Bentley, a high school principal who makes Spencer, Bethany, Fridge, and Martha clean up the school’s basement as part of their detention, which sets the movie’s events forward.
Lastly, Welcome to the Jungle does pay a somewhat homage to the late actor Robin William’s character of Alan Parrish from the original 1995 film. However, while I’m not going to spoil what it is in the movie, I personally felt a bit let down. After all the internet hype for this particular scene (i.e. reading many articles that Kasdan was gonna feature do something special for Robin’s character), it really didn’t amount to anything really grand or really important, which was what I was explaining it to be. I don’t know…. maybe I was reading into to it too much.
For two decades, the game of Jumanji went untouched, but the game always finds away, ensnaring a new generation of youthful “players” in the film Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Director Jake Kasdan newest film presents a new generation of movie viewers to the cinematic world of adventure and danger, giving the classic board game (and its film franchise) with a new look and feel. While the film can’t quite measure up to the overall thrills and dramatic / emotional moments that made the first film memorable (as well as some other lacking areas), the film’s presentation is engaging and the four main leads of the feature provide enough laughs and entertainment value to give this movie a go. Personally, I thought this movie was somewhere between fairly good to good. It definitely had a few problems and didn’t overtake the first film, but it was a fairly satisfying because of the chemistry between the four leads. Thus, I would say that this movie is a both a recommended due to the film’s appeal for most ages (tweens to adults), but also an iffy-choice as some fans of the original film will have mix feelings about this feature. In the end, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle will be a moderate sequel of updating the 90s classic that doesn’t hold emotional substance weight, but handles itself well in its action-comedy aspect. Much like video games, Jumanji (the game) has changed to fit the new generation of players. Whether that’s a better to fit for a modern audience or just sticking with old-school nostalgia of the first film is up to the player / moviegoer (if you know what I mean).
3.5 Out of 5 (Recommended / Iffy Choice)
Released On: December 20th, 2017
Reviewed On: January 30th, 2018
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is 119 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content, and some language