Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Grade : B Year : 2017 Director : Jake Kasden Running Time : 1hr 59min Genre : ,
Movie review score

Joe Johnston’s “Jumanji” was a fun adventure movie back in 1995. I saw it with my mom over the holidays, then never really gave it another thought. All this is to say I never really had much investment in whether a sequel or remake/reboot happened. The trailers for “Welcome to the Jungle,” which turned the titular game into a video game rather than a board game, didn’t really do anything for me, but some positive word-of-mouth from friends, as well as an agreeable cast, made me curious as to how it turned out.

If you recall the premise from the Johnston film, or the book by Chris Van Allsburg, it’s simple enough. People get sucked into a jungle adventure game called, Jumanji, and have to win the game in order to get home. In a brief prologue, a teenager in 1996 finds the board game from the original, and takes it home, but it takes the shape of a video game that is nearby afterwards. Two decades later, the gaming system with the Jumanji cartridge is found by four high schoolers serving detention, and when they take it out to play a bit, they get sucked into the game, taking the form of the avatars for the characters they chose when they were setting it up.

Normally, when you see more than two writers on a film, it’s a recipe for lazy screenwriting, but honestly, a lot of the success this film can be attributed to how director Jake Kasden (1998’s underrated “Zero Effect”) and writers Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg & Jeff Pinkner put this film together from a high-concept idea. One of the best parts about this film is how the characters of nerdy Spencer (who takes the avatar form of Dwayne Johnson in the game), football player “Fridge” (Kevin Hart in the game), shy redhead Martha (Karen Gillan in the game), and flirty popular girl Bethany (Jack Black in the game) remain themselves while in the game, but also are forced to reconcile that with the characteristics their avatars have in-game, which are the opposite than what they are in real life. Original? No, but it’s well-written, and the actors have a ball doing it. Their energy, and the energy Kasden brings to the film as a director, make it work, and a lot of fun. (All four have their moments, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that Black stole the show.)

I’m glad I got a chance to watch the film in theatres, because it’s a fun experience on the big screen, even though it’s not much beyond typical escapist fair. There is one part of the film that really elevated the film for me, though. Halfway through the film, our heroes come across a pilot avatar they were unable to select in the beginning. It ended up being an affecting twist in the film that adds weight to the characters’s plight, and urgency for them all to finish the game. This is how you build a solid adventure film, and Kasden, his writers and his cast make it a fun couple of hours to go along for the ride.

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