It’s really difficult to claim whether “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” about a group of teenagers who turn into videogame characters, is a sequel to the 1995 Robin Williams hit “Jumanji,” a remake, a reboot, or something else. But it’s definitely the kind of movie that works the name of a classic rock tune into its title and makes sure to shot it during the end credits, so that people who were in their twenties during the 1990s and today have got kids of their very own (and probably took them to this film) can feel that Pavlovian tingle.
That description makes the fresh “Jumanji” sound like a cash-grab, and in lot of ways it is-studios are so enamored with the notion that pre-existing perceptive properties are box office insurance that they’re far more likely to greenlight this than something genuinely brand-new, even though specifically no one has spent the last two decades saying, “I wish somebody would produce another ‘Jumanji.’” At the same time, though, this is a likable, funny diversion, and sometimes even more than that. It offers plenty of twists and surprises to pull viewers along, despite the reality that writer-director Jake Kasdan’s story (co-written with four people) is usually ultimately not much meatier than the one from a 1990s videogame that the character types end up inhabiting after getting sentenced to a “Breakfast Membership”-type detention at school. (In the first film, the titular diversion is definitely an old-fashioned board game, just like in the supply material, Chris truck Allsburg’s popular children’s reserve.)
The protagonists here are Spencer (Alex Wolff), an earnest nerd; Spencer’s onetime best friend Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), a football celebrity who ends up grounded after regulators recognize Alex composed a homework project for him; Bethany (Madison Iseman), a traditional snotty Heather-type who’s addicted to her smartphone and will take selfies constantly; and the bookish, socially anxious Martha (Morgan Turner). They all have insecurities and issues. Once they finish up in the Jumanji videogame, these same heroes are played by Dwayne Johnson (as Spencer the nerd); Kevin Hart (as Fridge the jock); Karen Gillan (as the super-fit avatar of Martha), and Jack Black, of all people, as Bethany. There are expected to be five heroes in the game-space, though, and we match the fifth in due period: Alex Vreeke (Nick Jonas), who can be introduced as an lively teenager in the film’s 1996 prologue, only to get taken into the video game and become The Local Missing Son whose endlessly grieving family still lives in their now-decrepit house.
The body-switching gag threatens to wear out its welcome quickly (hah ha, the scrawny nerd looks like Dwayne Johnson now, and the awkward girl has washboard abs!), but the actors take their tasks to play teens so seriously that the film surfs along on a wave of poker-faced earnestness, blending moments of pathos in with its super-broad slapstick. (Except for Dan Castellaneta’s Homer Simpson, nobody screams in pain more hilariously than Kevin Hart.) At specific points you might experience as though you’re watching the longest, most lavishly produced “Saturday Evening Live” draw ever, complete with lush jungle scenery (the film was shot partly on location in Hawaii) and attacks by CGI hippos, rhinos, monkeys, crocodiles and the like. But since the entire issue has like a 10-season old’s Disney Funnel illusion of what adolescence will become like, it functions well more than enough, specially when coupled with intense discussions of the game’s rules (how many lives you obtain, how many levels there are, how to lift the curse from the land, etc).
Both the videogame’s construction and its gender politics are very ‘90s. The film is definitely aware of this and makes fun of it, though there’s a bit of an eat-your-cake-and-have-it-too factor to the way it puts Johnson and Gillan's bodies on display. There are occasional jolts of mayhem, thanks generally to the motorcycle-riding ninjas who do the bidding of the movie’s villain Mark Truck Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), a demonic number who wants to control the Jaguar’s Eyesight and claim dominion over the property. The action scenes are constructed with a little of panache and manage to end up being exciting though you’re never significantly worried that any major personality is definitely going to shed all of their lives. Kasdan, a veteran filmmaker who happens to be the son of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Empire Hits Back” screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, provides an old-school sense of how to build those kinds of sequences. The pictures are thoughtfully constructed, for the most part, and you often know where you are and what's at stake from moment to instant.
The script’s scenarios allow for charming, often faintly surreal funny character occasions, as when Black’s round yet flouncy Bethany instructs Gillan’s super-fit but still physically awkward Martha on how to become sexy. Black’s "hey, sailor" walk evokes Pests Bunny in move, and Gillan’s subsequent “seductive” dance to distract some guards appears as if she’s trying to move sand out of her shorts while simultaneously dealing with a bad case of swimmer’s ear. The film doesn’t possess the nerve to stick to some of its even more subversive ideas (such as Bethany lusting after Alex) to their logical conclusions, most likely because this is certainly an expensive project that’s terrified of alienating a specific sector of the open public (envision the walkouts if Jack Dark lip-locked with Chip Jonas in something various other than a CPR circumstance). But it’s still more surprising in even more methods than it had to end up being, and the performers are clearly having such fun playing insecure teenagers that you stay involved also when the thinness of the organization becomes indisputable. This is normally a two-and-a-half superstar film, honestly, bumped up a notch because the actors are likable, the film does not have a cruel thought in its head, and the sentimental finale feels earned.
Published 2 months ago
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