There’s an inevitable rolling of the eyes when it comes to Hollywood’s seemingly lazy inclination to churn out superfluous sequels, prequels, reboots and remakes. But in the case of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, there is a feasible reason for its existence, as the preceding endeavour, which is now 22 years old, left itself open for a sequel, and given the nature of the film; that of humans and animals coming face-to-face, with newfangled technology, it’s the sort of franchise that could flourish with a new set of eyes at the helm, and the resources to fulfil their vision. And it does.
We begin in the present day, when four students land themselves in detention one afternoon. Spencer (Alex Wolff) is an introvert, who has drifted apart from his childhood friend Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), but they find themselves stuck together having got in trouble with the principle. Also present is the self-obsessed Bethany (Madison Iseman) and the quiet Martha (Morgan Turner). Though wanting nothing more than to get out of there as quickly as possible, when they discover a video game in the basement, with a game entitled ‘Jumanji’, they can’t resist but have a quick go. But before they know it, they’ve been transported into the game itself, and they’ve taken on new identities (and bodies).
Spencer (Dwayne Johnson) is now the leader of the pack, towering over his ‘side-kick’ Fridge (Kevin Hart). Meanwhile Bethany (Jack Black) has taken on the form of a middle aged man, and Martha (Karen Gillan) is a kick-ass athlete with a compulsion for killing men through the medium of dance. As a four they know they have to complete each level, and defeat the nefarious villain Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), as they come to terms with the fact that this is far from just a game, as each of them have three lives left, and when they’ve gone, they’ve gone.
What made the original Jumanji so much fun was the idea of having the jungle come to the real world, seeing elephants and lions roam the streets of suburban America. It’s a shame then to see, this time around, the real world head to the jungle – a less exciting, and far more conventional trope, as we see how our protagonists navigate their way around this foreign landscape. The other area this film suffers when comparing to the original film, is by simply not having Robin Williams involved. And not even for his comedic flair either, but more for his heart. The actor walked the line between comedy and tragedy in a remarkable way, and while this production certainly has its fair share of laughs, it’s just lacking that pathos.
The jokes are consistent, however, if a little repetitive at times. It’s easy to see where director Jake Kasdan is going with this, the idea of each student taking on virtual personas of those they with they could be but aren’t, and the one running gag being that of how their old sensibilities come through in their new bodies. It would get tedious, but then Jack Black pretending to be a teenage girl is never not funny. It’s emblematic of a film that is playful in its approach, and commits solely to the notion of fun and entertainment, and with that comes an adventurous, enjoyable blockbuster that is easy to get on board. Can’t really complain with that.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is released on December 20th.