Review by C.J. Bunce
You might think that a movie from 22 years ago isn’t prime material for a reboot, especially when that movie is Joe Johnston’s barely memorable Jumanji. It starred Robin Williams, a bunch of kids and a nice pantheon of supporting actresses (including Patricia Clarkson (The Maze Runner series, The Station Agent), Bebe Neuwirth (Cheers, Malice, Star Trek: The Next Generation), and Bonnie Hunt (Zootopia, Monsters, Inc.)). Ten years later Jon Favreau would take the same formula ahead with Zathura. Both movies featured kids getting pulled into a board game where they must fight to survive. Blending these shows with the pulled-in concept first taken on by Tron in 1982, the new fantasy adventure Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle takes the idea from board game to video game, and does it much better by taking the child actors and having them turn into adult fantasy world avatars, all played by some of Hollywood’s best-loved actors.
The result is great fantasy fun–escapist, easy, laugh-out-loud humor that showcases the talents, charisma, and humor, of the four stars. Leading the way is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (who according to Meet the Press is considering a 2020 presidential bid). No current personality is better at poking fun at himself, with charisma, good looks, and the smarts to pull off the persona of a teenager afraid of everything who becomes the chiseled Dr. Smolder Bravestone, and yes, smoldering is one of his video character powers. My screening was preceded by a trailer for Rampage, another big action film game tie-in along the lines of San Andreas. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle co-stars Johnson’s Central Intelligence co-star Kevin Hart, who brings his stand-up comic, self-effacing persona to the big screen again as the tough kid turned short-statured sidekick to Bravestone, Franklin Finbar. Finbar’s video game powers are hysterical–one of his powers is carrying Bravestone’s tools, and his weaknesses include cake and strength itself.
Another nice choice is comedic actor Jack Black, who plays self-absorbed teenager Bethany’s avatar, Professor Shelly (as in Sheldon, not Michelle) Oberon. Black plays the role for great laughs, and he pulls off playing a teenage girl like only he could. Karen Gillan stars as studious teen Martha’s avatar Ruby Roundhouse, a seriously badass superheroine of the Tomb Raider Lara Croft school. Gillan, known best for her role as Amelia Pond in Doctor Who and as Nebula in the Guardians of the Galaxy series, proves again she was born to play big action roles. She and Bravestone are exactly what you’d expect from online role player fantasy personas, not in actual Activision game but maneuvering pitfalls just the same. When they’re saving the day the audience is cheering them on every step of the way. In between those scenes audiences will be laughing as the coming-of-age story of the kids breaks through. By the end of the film, a cameo actor performance–a brilliant casting move–will take audiences full circle with the mystique of another coming of age fantasy with life-changing implications from the 30 years ago (hint: the cameo actor previously co-starred with one of this film’s actors in one of our favorite coming of age classics).
Bobby Cannavale (Ant-Man) and Nick Jonas also appear in the video game, Cannavale as the video game’s villain, and Jonas as another character the group encounters along the way.
You’ll find plenty to like with this Jumanji. What starts as an updated version of The Breakfast Club brings together four unlikely companions played by young actors Alex Wolff (My Friend Dahmer), Ser’Darius Blain (Star Trek Into Darkness, Sucker Punch), Madison Iseman (Ghost Squad), and Morgan Turner (Mildred Pierce, Wonderstruck). We believe the film’s four adult stars are real because the kids do their part upfront.
With so many films that are deep, dark, political, or otherwise drumming up controversy, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is entirely refreshing. And a hot summer jungle is just the place to be while hiding from the cold snap outside. If you’re looking for a fun escape this month, this is your movie.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is playing now in theaters everywhere.