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[Movie Review] Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

Official Site

Plot Summary: Four teenagers discover an old video game console and are literally drawn into the game's jungle setting, becoming the adult avatars they choose.

Director: Jake Kasdan

Writers: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers

Runtime: 1h 59min

Main Cast:

  • Dwayne Johnson as Spencer
  • Kevin Hart as Fridge
  • Jack Black as Bethany
  • Karen Gillan as Martha

Review by: Mia

Jumanji was a film that awed children and adults with the complexity of its concept. It did the cinematic work to bring a fiction world to life in a way that wowed us. We watched creatures spring from out of a game and thrust lovable characters into peril that could easily leave someone injured or dead. Jumanji wasn't just a kid's movie, it was a kid-friendly thriller. Since my childhood, I have always loved the concept of Jumanji. Even the cartoon took us into a mysterious world that called to everyday people at bad times in life and forced them to play or die or live in Jumanji forever. The concept has always felt like a rite of passage for some unsuspecting pre-teens.

When I heard that the new Jumanji film would feature Jack Black, Dwayne Johnson, and Kevin Hart, I was equal parts intrigued and dread-filled. Jumanji never felt like a carefree comedy to me. It wasn’t meant to be a light film with quirky action. Bring back the peril and the world building.

Then I got to read the plot concept and my intrigue grew. As a video game fan, it only felt right to bring Jumanji into 2017 with a fresh look at how the game draws in its players. Video Games felt right. Being pulled into Jumanji as a game world had a lot of potential. Still, how would they do it and how would this cast affect the tone of the film?

Jumanji is set in the present, with four kids from different walks of life all ending up in detention together Breakfast Club style. While dealing with their punishment, they stumble across an antique video game from before their time and set it up to entertain themselves. A few minutes of setup and character selection ends with the four students standing in a jungle in bodies that they do not recognize. Young Spencer (Alex Wolff), a nerdy gamer with confidence issues transforms into well-built and smoldering eyed archaeologist (played by Dwayne Johnson). Young Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) transforms from a cocky football player into a puny Zoologist (Kevin Hart). Young Bethany (Madison Iseman) is a self-centered beauty queen turned overweight cartographer (Jack Black). Young Martha (Morgan Turner), a shy bookworm and introvert, turns into an agile firecracker fighter (Karen Gillan). As a team, they realize through peril and gameplay that they must play the game to return to their world. Along the way, they meet Alex, a gamer from the 90s who has never been able to escape the game alone. The team of 5 must battle an evil overlord who has captured the soul of Jumanji and utilizes its powers to control Jumanji’s creatures and intimidate its population. The 5 must restore Jumanji to light and return home. Each of them has 3 lives and if they lose them, there is no escape from death. Cue the Jumanji Drums.

What I Liked:

Seeing how the film mixed video game structure with the world of Jumanji was interesting. They inserted a few traits of gaming and character skillsets that I liked the overall concept of. Each teen got to see themselves in a different light and grow confidence in a deeper part of themselves. The world of Jumanji itself felt vast and full of perilous possibilities. Had they done more with the world that they built and the creatures that they could have introduced, this film could have set the bar even higher for the Jumanji Legacy. You will definitely laugh at what these characters go through and how the personalities of their “actual” selves show in their “player” selves, especially Bethany, played by Jack Black. The comedy and social awkwardness of the film works, even in the more dangerous scenes of the film.

What I Didn’t Like:

This film was rushed and superficial. I can’t help, but to compare it to the original Jumanji and it falls painfully short. You have the opportunity to expand on a world, you have the perfect structure to make the world building complex by taking advantage of the perks of a video game structure, and instead, we are given just the surface of Jumanji. Consider the way that video games dive into side stories, folklore, character backgrounds, and conflict. While video games have more time and space to really stretch a story out, following the traits that make a video game great would most certainly benefit a movie claiming to be about a video game. Jumanji lazily introduces the idea that our characters are in a video game. We get a short moment where they can access their character’s skillsets and weaknesses. We get the notion that non-player characters cannot interact beyond their scripted dialogue, and we get the idea that our team of 5 must beat each level of the game in order to make it to the next. However, there’s no clear objective for each level and there’s no real rhyme or reason to what Jumanji demands of the team. Granted, the game is supposed to be a simple concept Jumanji put together in the 90s and never developed further in the 20 years since its first gamer player was pulled in, but at the same time, Jumanji has always felt like a living thing that chooses its players and their suffering. Why not build on this eery, curse-like peril that Jumanji offered in the first movie? Why leave us to the simple antics of children in foreign adult bodies carelessly dying their way to the big boss who must be defeated.

The big boss was not fleshed out enough, much like the world of Jumanji and the creatures within that world. We get more interaction and self-reflection from characters than action and awe. I wanted to feel the same grandness from the world of Jumanji that Kong: Skull Island offered us when introducing us to a young Kong and instead, this film resembled Tron with its narrow focus on the inserted players and its simple explanation of the world through which these players traveled. This was disappointing.

We get good action scenes from both Spencer and Martha’s players, with a chance to be impressed by what these players can do as they fight dangers in the game. However, none of the characters are fleshed out enough for us to understand who they are in the world of Jumanji when players aren’t embodying them and how they fit into the world of Jumanji.

Images Courtesy of IMDB

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