Main cast: Dwayne Johnson (Dr Smolder Bravestone), Jack Black (Professor Shelly Oberon), Kevin Hart (Franklin “Mouse” Finbar), Karen Gillan (Ruby Roundhouse), Nick Jonas (Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough), Bobby Cannavale (Russel Van Pelt), Rhys Darby (Nigel Billingsley), Alex Wolff (Spencer Gilpin), Madison Iseman (Bethany Walker), Ser’Darius Blain (Anthony “Fridge” Johnson), Morgan Turner (Martha Kaply), and Mason Guccione (Alex Vreeke)
Director: Jake Kasdan
Now this is a pleasant surprise. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a sequel that I doubt many people clamored for, especially considering that the previous movie came out in 1995. Plus, I’ve seen what seems like twenty movies featuring Dwayne Johnson, to the point that I’m tired of seeing that brow lift, scowl, and what not. But while this movie is as shallow as a puddle, it delivers plenty of fun and laughter – just what it should be doing all along.
We start off in the present day, when we have the usual high school kids trying to pull a The Breakfast Club. Spencer Gilpin and Anthony Johnson were tight childhood friends, but as the years go by, Anthony becomes Fridge, the hot football star, while Spencer is the computer game-obsessed nerd who is scared of everything due to his endless allergies. Spencer tries to mend their rift by doing Fridge’s homework for him, and they get busted. Meanwhile, the self-absorbed Bethany can’t stop texting her friend at class, and when she gives her teacher lip, off she goes to detention. And then we have Martha Kaply, the socially awkward girl whom Spencer has a crush on. She sasses her gym teacher when the latter tries to make her participate in gym class, so she’s also spending time after school in detention.
Meanwhile, Jumanji – a game that draws its players into the game itself – has discovered that nobody plays board games anymore, so it magically transforms itself into a console game. Our four kids discover the console as one of the unwanted junk in the basement, decide to give it a try, and whoops!
Spencer randomly picks to play as one Dr Smolder Bravestone, who turns out to be a brawny, bald archeologist and explorer who can do everything. Martha picks one Ruby Roundhouse, and finds her character in the game to be a kick-ass babe who can do all kinds of kung-fu stuff with venom as her sole weakness. Bethany decides to pick Professor Shelly Oberon, only to discover that Shelly is probably short for Sheldon – she is stuck in a pudgy character who looks like Jack Black and is the complete opposite of her in real life: a brain who is good in cartography, paleontology, and so much more but with a weakness for endurance – she’s not going to run far and long with that body, let’s just say. And Fridge is horrified to find that his character in the game is the short sidekick of Smolder, with only zoology knowledge and carrying Smolder’s weapons in a backpack as his character’s virtues and the longest list of weaknesses of them all (cake, strength, speed). Worse, Fridge is Spencer’s sidekick – which pains him the most as he’d grown to resent Spencer and view that boy as an object of ridicule.
The game requires them to restore a powerful green gem back to the eye of a huge jaguar statue. They are given this gem from the very beginning by a helpful ingame character, Nigel, but it is up to them to figure out how to find and get to this statue. And just like in the first movie, Russel Van Pelt is back as the villain. This version of the bad guy seeks the gem because it will allow him to command all the animals in Jumanji and apparently that is a fun thing that villains like to do. Or something. He is hot on their tails.
As you can guess, these kids will have to learn important life lessons. The nerds will learn to stand up and be strong, Fridge learns that physical strength isn’t everything, Bethany learns to be less self-absorbed and to care for someone (Seaplane, a guy who is trapped in the game for ages, and his ability to fly a plane will be helpful to the gang). It’s all so predictable and superficial, and yes, everyone is a team in the end, blah blah blah.
But this movie is so much fun to watch. Mind you, aside from some jokes involving Bethany learning to pee like a man and experiencing an erection, this movie is mostly suitable for kids as the violence is stylized rather than gory. Jack Black is the MVP here, as he plays “Bethany” in a way that is just hilarious without going too over the top or farcical. Dwayne Johnson tones down his usual scenery chewing ways and even manages to pull off some humor that pokes fun at his usual movie character archetype. Kevin Hart is playing the Ruby Rhod character here – the sassy and loud black man – but the resulting decibels are far more gentle on the ears than “CO-OOOO-OOO-OOO-RBIN!” Karen Gillan has the least to work on, the poor dear, but then again, her role is to kick butts and become the love interest, so the script doesn’t give the poor dear much to do. Her contribution are the fight scenes, and… let’s just say that these scenes aren’t very believable. As for Nick Jonas, his character mostly there to catalyze Bethany’s character development and he does well what he needs to do (look pretty, does a bit of action stuff).
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle offers non-stop action and comedy, and it also pokes fun at the role-playing computer game genre as well as teen archetypes with a gentle, non-malicious manner. Sure, the character arc development of the teens is tired beyond belief, and there is a paint by numbers feel to the whole “We learn to be a team, hurrah!” vibe of the movie, but it is also a constant barrel of laughs and fun. Plus, the scenery is gorgeous. File this one under “I really didn’t expect to like this one!”.