Action Adventure

'Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle' Film Review: A great cast holds up a subpar plot

December 20, 2017Rattan Mutti

Hollywood is always looking for old properties with nostalgia value. It seems they are always looking to take a new approach to something that has a built-in fanbase, and director Jake Kasdan is just the latest filmmaker tasked with doing exactly that, with his revamped reimagining of 1995's Jumanji, now subtitled Welcome to the Jungle.

In this version of Jumanji, we follow four high school kids who, over the course of their day and for one reason or another, find themselves sent to detention. The Geek, Spencer (Alex Wolff), and the Jock, Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), are former best friends who get in trouble because Fridge had Spencer do his homework. The Outcast, Martha (Morgan Turner), refused to participate in gym class and talked back to the teacher. Finally, there's the Princess, Bethany (Madison Iseman), who refused to turn off her phone during a quiz. While in detention, they come across a decades-old video game called Jumanji, and as they begin to play, they are transported into the world of the game and transformed into their avatars within it.

Spencer becomes archaeologist Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Fridge becomes zoologist Franklin "Moose" Finbar (Kevin Hart), Martha becomes "killer of men" Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and Bethany becomes a middle-aged male scientist named Professor Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon (Jack Black). Despite their differences, all of them must learn to work together to navigate their way through the dangers of the jungle and to complete a mission to lift a curse on it, so that they can return back home.

The result has elements of an action movie, a body-swap comedy and a video game movie. Yet the film is able to bring the best out of all of these elements, which is a credit to the tremendous cast that has been assembled. A geek trapped in the physique of a bodybuilder is a hilarious concept, and Johnson does a terrific job with it. Likewise, Gillian does a great job cause pulling off her fight scenes while simultaneously hating the impracticality of her outfit, and Hart does a really good job playing the sidekick to Johnson's character, transforming from jock to vertically-challenged in tremendous fashion. But the heart of the film is seriously Black, whose character is so fun-loving and goofy, and who also has a great arc as he comes to terms with how he has been treating others.

Needless to say, Hollywood has a troubled past when it comes to making good video game movies, so it is interesting to see Welcome to the Jungle take this type of approach. The film makes good uses of such gaming concepts as life bars, levels, NPCs and attributing various strengths and weaknesses to each character, with the latter in particular leading to a number of funny gags throughout the movie, such as when Fridge discovers that one of his character's weaknesses is cake, and then has an explosive reaction when he comes across a piece of pastry later on in the film.

But the issue with video game movies is that the plot is usually very weak and is mainly secondary to the action. And in this regard, Welcome to the Jungle is no different from the rest. The script by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner is there to solely to set up the jokes and the action sequences. Furthermore, the film tries to establish its big bad villain in John Hardin Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), an explorer driven mad by the supernatural powers of the jungle, but it all just comes across as very cheesy and as not much of a real threat. Van Pelt is your typical mustache-twirling villain and doesn't have much substance to him.

That said, even though Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has a paper-thin plot with a lackluster villain — which has become the norm in blockbuster filmmaking — the movie is able to rise above its shortcomings. With a great cast, good comedic moments and quality action sequences — not to mention a positive lesson about being true to yourself and accepting others — this is a video game movie that's worth the price of admission.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle releases December 20th, 2017 from Sony Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content and some language. Its runtime is 1 hr. 59 min.

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