#REVIEW: “JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
If I was a bit wiser in my young age, I would have kept track of how many times I re-watched Jumanji. I must have worn out my babysitter’s VHS tape of that glorious Robin Williams adventure flick, reveling in its chaos, fun and not so subtle darkness. The Film ends on an ellipsis, hinting that there would be more adventure to come for those next board game players – but the sequel never came. I gave up hope, but should have known it would get rebooted eventually.
Four high schoolers are stuck in detention, cleaning a storage room destined to become a new computer lab. They discover a video game called Jumanji and decide to try it, if only for a few minutes. But after they choose their characters, they are transported inside the game and into the bodies of their chosen avatars. Armed with new powers, weaknesses and three lives each, the group must work together in order to survive and win the game – or else they might be stuck inside forever.
Much like its predecessor from 22(!) years ago, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a deeply-silly and wildly-enjoyable Adventure Film. Swapping-out the eponymous board game for a video game was a wise decision, giving the Film a contemporary edge that resonates more than I thought it might. It also helps extend the scope of the original Film in new and interesting ways, allowing for reimagined scenarios and less dead-weight side characters. The Film does play-up on the nostalgia of its Predecessor often – as well as classic video game tropes – but I had hoped for more emphasis on Williams’ character Alan Parrish, who only gets a passing reference here. This disappointed me slightly, but considering much of the original Film’s depth has been replaced by more breathless CGI action, it should not be all that surprising.
Action and nostalgia aside, the performances are what truly makes the Film so enjoyable. Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan all have a blast acting as teenagers in larger than life adult bodies. They play on their real-life personas, peppering in some great moments of satire and humour, but also do an admirable job handling the insecurities and frustrations of adolescence. Johnson has practically perfected his fish-out-of-water schtick now, but it’s a lot of fun getting to see Hart and Gillan play against-type here.
But these three are no match for Jack Black, who delivers the most memorable role of the Film and his best work in years. His avatar is being played by a young woman (Madison Iseman, doing her best Instagram-obsessed teenager), and Black plays the character as over-the-top and effeminate as he possibly can. It leads to many of the Film’s best laughs – many at the expense of Iseman’s character learning about her new “appendage” — as well as some genuine character development missing from the other leads. His terrific and hilarious work here, coupled alongside the other three leads, more than makes up for the weaker supporting cast around them, chief amongst them Bobby Cannavale, playing the neutered, completely unthreatening villain Van Pelt.
Jumanji: Welome to the Jungle succeeds greatly at being a fun-filled adventure. While it lacks depth, the Film has laughs, action and nostalgia to spare. Watching the main cast interact with each other, especially Black, should be one of the highlights for families this holiday season.
Sony Pictures Canada release JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE on Wednesday, December 20, 2017.