Review by: Vitali Gueron
When people utter the word Jumanji, they can’t help but think of the 1995 fantasy adventure movie Jumanji, starring the late Robin Williams, and adapted from the 1981 children’s book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. The film stars Williams as Alan Parrish, a man who is trapped in a board game for 26 years, until 1995 when the brother/sister pair of Peter and Judy find the dusty old board game in their attic. When they start playing it, they inadvertently release a swarm of giant mosquitoes, some monkeys, a lion and a 26-years-older Alan who has been surviving the animals and jungle of Jumanji. While Alan, Peter and Judy all survive, so does the game and we last see it on a beach as it lies partially buried in the sand.
Fast forward twenty-two years, we are introduced to the direct sequel of Jumanji called Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. The movie starts off in 1996, a year after the events in the original movie, when a father discovers the same half buried board game while jogging along the beach. He removes it from the sand and bring it home for his teenage son Alex Vreeke to play with. But Alex, being the mid-90’s teenager that he is, is not interested in board games but rather video games and heavy metal music. As he throws the game aside, the game morphed into a video game cartridge – the kind that fits right in his video game console which is hooked up to his bedroom television. The game is now all but daring Alex to play it and having no choice, Alex begins to play it and gets sucked inside the video game.
We jump to present day, now twenty years later, where we are introduced to four delinquent high school students, all given detention for various infractions throughout the day. Nerdy gamer Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff) is caught writing essays for his former friend and football jock Anthony “Fridge” Johnson (Ser’Darius Blain), self-centered cheerleader Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman) is all-but-glued to her cell phone and does not want to stop using it during class, and Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner) is a shy bookworm who refuses to participate in physical education. All four teenagers are sent to clear out the junk from the school’s basement, and soon-there-after the four find Jumanji, now a five-player action-adventure console game.
The teens decide to start the game, choosing the four remaining video game characters, as one is already in play. Spencer chooses the avatar of Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a very rugged and muscular explorer who is also an archaeologist. Fridge chooses the avatar of Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), a short in height zoologist and weapons specialist, when Fridge mistakenly reads the character’s nickname as “Moose”. Martha chooses the avatar of Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), a commando, martial artist, and dance fighter and Bethany is left with no choice but to pick the avatar of Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black), cartographer, cryptographer, archaeologist and paleontologist. Bethany originally believes that her avatar “Shelly” is female but as soon as they find themselves in a jungle, she realizes that Professor Sheldon Oberon is actually an overweight, middle-aged man. She also has an amusing stint at first as she discovers her avatar’s male genitalia.
The teenagers, now avatars in the game, soon learn that each of their avatars also comes with special skills and weaknesses (some are quite hilarious and provide for the adult humor in the movie). Each avatar has three lives and if they lose all three, the teens will actually die in real life. Professor Oberon is almost immediately eaten by a hippo (a well-made CGI creature) and as his next avatar comes into the game from the skies above, he conveniently lands upon Franklin Finbar, who breaks his fall with his who body. This is where the trio of Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson make Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle an absolute blast to watch. We are soon introduced to the film’s villain, Russel Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), who has developed the ability to control the dark and creepy creatures of Jumanji.
An encounter with a snake – which the avatar initially try to outwit in a staring contest – makes for an absolutely hysterical scene with Black, Hart, Johnson and Karen Gillian all screaming for their lives as the CGI snake after them. They soon meet Seaplane McDonough (Nick Jonas), the avatar of Alex Vreeke (the fifth player) whose’s a skilled pilot. They also learn that Alex has survived for twenty years in the game but is down to his very last life. With Alex’s help, the group now has the chance to escape the game, but first the players must return a jewel (captured by Van Pelt) to an enormous jaguar statue and call out “Jumanji”. While I will not reveal how the film ends, I will just say that all’s well that ends well and we do see teenagers back in the real world again, along with a now-adult Alex.
The best part of the sequel is the humor that the avatars portrayed by Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillian gave to the plot of the movie. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle becomes a more refined Central Intelligence (the 2016 Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson action comedy) meet Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (the 1984 Steven Spielberg classic). The combination of actors, storyline and CGI actually work pretty well in this movie and the high school aspect makes it empathetic and relatable to the target audience.
While director Jake Kasdan closes the door to the idea of there being another sequel, it thankfully doesn’t mean that Jumanji will forever disappear as it has managed to survive in various forms for many years, both as a game inside the movie and as the real life movie, watched again and again by the next generation of kids and teenagers. The sequel to Jumanji is worth a revisit to the jungle, and would make Robin Williams proud, but above all, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle makes for one heck of a good time!
Have you seen ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle‘? Well, what did you think?