When it comes to remaking or creating long gestating sequels to movies from the past, I experience a mixture of excitement and trepidation. My concern is that too much time has passed or the original left behind such a legacy that it cannot be duplicated. Where I think some sequels and remakes succeed is by building on what came before and using that as building blocks to form their own story.
While I was apprehensive about a Jumanji sequel, especially without the late Robin Williams, Hollywood’s highest paid actor and his cast proved me wrong.
(This review is spoiler-free.)
The film picks up in 1996, not long after Williams’ Alan Parrish (who is mentioned in the film) dumped the board game over the bridge and into the river. The board game is discovered and, after a little modification, manages to ensnare another kid into the game. Moving forward twenty years to current 2017, four unlikely teenagers uncover the ancient game console in the basement of their school, Jumanji still in the cartridge. Unknowingly, they plug into the game and get sucked into the video game. Playing as their character avatars, the teens must work together to beat the game and return home.
The teens are your average high schoolers: Spencer, the socially awkward gamer (Alex Wolff), Bethany, the pretty and self-centered princess/cheerleader (Madison Iseman), Anthony/”Fridge”, the jock who can’t pass a class without help (Ser’Darius Blain), and Martha, the shy bookworm (Morgan Turner). This Breakfast Club-esque group is sent to detention for their own reasons, but once they uncover the game, the fun truly starts there. Each selecting their own avatars: archaeologist/explorer Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), cartographer Professor “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black), short zoologist and weapons carrier “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), and commando dance fighter Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillian).
Each teen had their own strengths and faults in reality so the classic story of going to another world to discover more about themselves and more alike they are is worked into this story. I liked how the jungle of Jumanji explored: each having their own levels and challenges for the characters to survive. The twist of how the game updates itself to make it more modern is far-fetched, but serves its purpose. The chemistry between the four actors as the avatars was the entertaining portion of the film. Johnson and Hart, already good friends and previous starring in a film, had a hilarious back and forth as Hart poked fun at his own height since he was the jock’s avatar and Spencer finding underlying confidence (and a smolder that had the audience laughing) as he was represented as the muscle-stacked explorer. Gillian was both a badass and a complete opposite to Martha in the real world, showing funny moments of insecurities. Jack Black was at his comedic best as Bethany’s avatar with being fascinated by the male anatomy (luckily, it wasn’t harped on a long time). Nick Jonas was excellent as a cocky airpilot that the crew encountered in the middle of the second act.
The animals are still fairly scary as they terrorize the intruders of their jungle and there are callbacks to the first film (Stampede!) that are still enjoyable and not overtop to the point where the story gets lost. The director wanted to make sure that the action and humor had an even balance and I’d call that goal a success. As I stated before, the chemistry was wonderful between all four actors as they channeled their teen players and hashed out their issues from the outside world while outrunning the bad guys and other characters who repeat the same sayings time to time unless you ask the right questions. You know how these RPG game characters are like.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was funny and adventurous, providing an enjoyable time for the entire audience I was apart of. It was surprising, but solidly entertaining update that had a lot of heart, humor, and charm to carry the film. The cast did a wonderful job honoring the legacy that Robin Williams left behind, but didn’t feel burdened by it; instead, the actors had fun with their roles and put on a good show. It’s worth a post-Christmas viewing.