Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, directed by Jake Kasdan, is a new take on the classic children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, Jumanji, and a pseudo-sequel to the 1995 film of the same name.
Going away from the previous premise of bringing a board game to life, this film brings a group of high school students into a situation in which they are sucked into a video game, adopting their respective video game characters’ physical and scientific attributes while maintaining their own personalities.
Unlike the original 1995 film, in which the game Jumanji brings the jungle to the characters, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle — as the title states — brings the characters to the jungle.
Disappointingly enough, this new iteration of Jumanji doesn’t involve nearly as many jungle animals as the 1995 film and is dictated solely on the action of the characters instead of their jungle counterparts.
The film begins with a prologue that takes place in 1996 in Brantford, New Hampshire, the setting of the original film. The audience is introduced to a college student named Alex, at whose father finds the ominous board game on a beach and gives it to his son. The game starts to play the ominous drum beats and turns into a video game cartridge that Alex decides to try. Alex chooses his character and is sucked into the jungle nightmare of Jumanji.
In a scene reminiscent of the popular 80s teen film Breakfast Club — a nerd, a jock, a popular girl, and a quiet, Ivy League bound girl find themselves in a Saturday detention and are tasked with cleaning an old storage closet. Rather than removing staples from some books, the group stumbles upon the old cartridge and decide to give it a try. When they choose their characters, they are also sucked into the game and fall into the land of Jumanji and are tasked with saving the jungle from a villain named Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) — an updated version of the villain from the 1995 film — who is attempting to control a jewel that is situated on a statue of a jaguar that allows him full control over the animal kingdom.
The students at the beginning of the film do a good job of setting the stage for their blockbuster star counterparts to emulate their personalities. Alex Wolff, who is most famous for his role as Dzhookhar Tsarnaev in 2016’s Patriots Day, plays the mild-mannered Spencer, who gets a giant body transformation into his avatar, Dr. Smolder Bravestone, who happens to have the physical attributes of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Although still having the angst and anxiety of a person who is picked on in high school, he is the most powerful character in the game.
The bigtime football player, Fridge, is played by Ser’Darius Blain, a hulking human whose physically imposing presence strikes fear into all of his peers. When he comes back as the diminutive Franklin “Mouse” Finbar, played by Kevin Hart, he is upset to see that his physical ability and size has been taken away from him and he is an unathletic, quick witted sidekick to Johnson’s Bravestone.
Morgan Turner is the driven student, Martha, who eventually becomes the bombshell Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), and has a set of skills akin to Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. The most drastic transformation comes from the character of Bethany (Madison Iseman), who becomes Professor Sheldon Oberon, played by Jack Black.
The comedy in the film is very good, and for the most part there are nonstop laughs. The cast of characters in the jungle are fun to watch, and the chemistry is great. Dwayne Johnson, as always, steals the show and his charisma and comedic timing essentially drive the film. Jack Black’s Sheldon/Bethany is at first seemingly annoying, but as the film moves forward, becomes one of the funniest parts of the movie. Hart’s Finbar is pretty much Kevin Hart playing Kevin Hart in every movie that he is in, but does a good job being the opposite of what his “real life” alter-ego has the ability to do.
Karen Gillan, who has a very large role in this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, also has some scenes (one of her strengths is dance fighting) that will keep the audience wanting more. There is also a cameo from Nick Jonas as the adult Alex character from the beginning of the film that ties up some loose ends in the film.
The big knock on the film is the fact that there is not much of a plot. The film basically relies on the fact that the dynamic cast will carry the movie, on which they do a good job of following through. The credits roll with the fact that the film is based on the book, but the movie is absolutely nothing like the original book, or the original film. There are a few references that allude to the 1995 film, but nothing that is that important to the plot. The villain, Van Pelt, does not bring anything close to the character from the original movie from which he is adapted.
Overall, the film is definitely fun to watch. Most moviegoers who are looking for a popcorn flick will not be disappointed. The movie is fun, funny, and action-packed, and as we said before, the cast couldn’t be better. If you are looking for a movie that is going to get a buzz during Oscar season, this probably is not it. However, if you want a movie that you don’t really have to follow or think about, but want a few laughs and action, you will not be disappointed.