Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

We’ve got four-player fun ‘n’ games

H ow would you like to wake up as Dwayne Johnson? Would that Rock your world? For me, this is the selling point of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. A kid gets sucked into a video game where he is Dwayne Johnson. Gee, why would you ever leave? And the kid who becomes Karen Gillan can’t have too many complaints, either, huh? The pair who become Jack Black and Kevin Hart, however … less.

Owing little but the title to the original Jumanji, Welcome to the Jungle imagined not a scenario by which the creatures from a board game come to your world, but instead the premise hinges on the players going to the imaginary world within the Jumanji game. Bearing little resemblance to the original film was probably a good idea. Entertaining as the 1995 Robin Williams version of Jumanji might have been, it was scary, depressing and more than a bit sad. Going with a “less is more” kind of adventure, Jumanji II made no attempt at selling adult failures to children and the movie is that much better as a result.

An equal opportunity premise thief, Jumanji II borrows from 80s hit Breakfast Club by sending four surface-diverse kids to detention: the guy nerd Spencer (Alex Wolff, The Rock), the gal nerd Martha (Morgan Turner, Karen Gillan), the football stud Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain, Kevin Hart), and the prom queen Bethany (Madison Iseman, Jack Black). Having Bethany realize that she’s suddenly a pudgy middle-aged man is particularly cruel and humorous at the same time. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Avoiding the work of detention, Spencer discovers a video game console with the cartridge “Jumanji” and doesn’t have to work especially hard to get the other to play.

Now hold up. In 1995, Jumanji was a board game. Yet it morphed into a video game to suit its current milieu? Is Jumanji some sort of existential demonic presence that shifts itself into whatever amusement is hanging about? How long has Jumanji been around? How many forms has it taken? Is virtual reality next? Did it used to be a cave drawing?

The kids pick avatars on the console, then get sucked into the console itself in turn becoming the avatars they’ve chosen. Clever, see? A movie about teens can suddenly star The Rock. And this is all tongue-in-cheek acting. Johnson, Hart, Black and Gillan all get to behave as if they are teenagers discovering what it would be like to live in their specific adult body. There’s a lot of humor tied to the premise – Gillan asking “Where’s the rest of my shirt?” … Johnson flinching from a stunt by Kevin Hart … Jack Black sighing, “I can’t even with this place …”

And then there’s the adventure itself – the four have to return an emerald the size of a softball to a peak at the other end of island to “win” the game and return to their teen angst. And everybody gets three “lives.”  Our heroes infer hat video game death is the same as real life death (which we accept as a movie truth); all I know is when my three lives are up, I have to start back at the beginning. That might make for a really long film.

Not every spectator will be amused at the prospect of Bethany’s lesson on “how to pee like a man.” And video game fanatics will probably find the perils a tad on the underwritten side. And yet, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was disposable fun – the kind of movie you smile through, toss away, and see what form it takes a decade or two from now.

Four teens get sucked into a thrilla
With a game that’s much more than vanilla
Enjoy the plot, chorused
The Rock in the forest
Care not to confuse he with gorilla

Rated PG-13, 119 Minutes
Director: Jake Kasdan
Writer: Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers and Scott Rosenberg & Jeff Pinkner
Genre: Getting a piece of “The Rock”
Type of being most likely to enjoy this film: Those in search of easy entertainment
Type of being least likely to enjoy this film: Folks still wary from the original

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