Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) – Film Review
Director: Jake Kasdan
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black
by Roger Crow
I can’t say I was desperate to see a sequel to Jumanji, the 1990s Robin Williams blockbuster in which kids get trapped inside a board game and play to get back to the real world. And the concept of Dwayne Johnson and Jack Black as two of the four protagonists fighting for their life also left me cold.
Don’t get me wrong. I like them both, but I’ve never rushed out to see the new Dwayne or Jack movie. They’re just not magnetic enough for me. However, Karen Gillan has that winning mix of sex appeal and quirkiness to win me over, so on a bleak January morning I settle in.
I’m not expecting much, so as the movie opens with references to the original, and so much product placement I feel queasy, I fear the worst. On the surface this may be a Jumanji reboot, but once I get past the feeling I’m watching a mash-up of It and Stranger Things (thanks to a creepy house, yellow rain coat and lovably nerdy students), I realise the heart of the piece is The Breakfast Club transplanted to the jungle. (The nerdy guy, the jock, the princess and the geek girl reflecting on their shortcomings).
And I’m happy to say it’s one of the most enjoyable family adventures I’ve seen in years.
The plot: while four fellow students are given detention and have to de-staple a bunch of magazines for recycling, they happen across a 1990s video game. And wouldn’t you know it? They are soon transplanted to the jungle. The twist being the geek is now the muscle-bound charismatic hero. The athletic jock is now the diminutive, weapons-carrying sidekick. The selfie-obsessed narcissist prom queen is a chubby middle aged man, and the shy geek is a Lara Croft-style kick-ass heroine.
After landing in their new home (those Hawaii backdrops are glorious on the big screen), our fish-out-of-water heroes are soon introduced to Rhys Darby’s avatar character, a genial sort who fills in their back story and mission before leaving them to it.
Cue rocket-launching bikers, killer hippos and no end of human and geographical hurdles to overcome.
“See it on the biggest screen possible”
As our heroes overcome their personal differences and adjust to their own new special abilities, what unfolds is often a joy. The highlight is Black teaching Gillan how to flirt as she attempts to sidetrack intentionally generic bad guy avatars.
Director Jake Kasdan does a great job of juggling the epic set pieces, while the cast interact so well, I’m not surprised it’s become one of the biggest blockbusters of the past 12 months. If you get the chance, see it on the biggest screen possible and enjoy as Johnson, Gillan, Hart and Black take you on a magical adventure which is even quite touching in places.
Those glorious vistas will lose a lot on the small screen, as I’ll find out when I watch it again, and again in a few months’ time. And no, not just because (a recognisable) Karen Gillan has finally landed the blockbuster she deserves.
Given the huge box office returns, a sequel is only a matter of years rather than decades. I have a feeling Mr Williams would have been proud.