The 400-Word Review - Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
By Sean Collier
January 3, 2018
The sequel to the 1995 family adventure Jumanji took so long — without any substantial nostalgia or sustained fanbase for the original — that it hardly needed the branding at all. A quartet of stars was assembled, some jungle locations were scouted; as long as there was running and punching and quipping, the materials were in place for a somewhat easy win.
But, sure, why not resurrect the plot of the Robin Williams flick? There’s a board game (updated to a video game this time, and presumably to a Snapchat filter when the third one comes out in 2039), some teenagers happen upon it, they get transported to a world of danger. Sure. It’s a movie!
The central quartet: a charming nerd (Alex Wolff) who transforms into a musclebound hunk (Dwayne Johnson), a bookworm (Morgan Turner) who turns into a bombshell brawler (Karen Gillan), a cocky athlete (Ser'Darius Blain) who becomes a diminutive lackey (Kevin Hart) and a mean girl (Madison Iseman) who is dismayed to learn she’s inhabiting the body of a portly professor (Jack Black).
When the team arrives in Jumanji — the name of the place, and the movie, and the game, and probably the unit of currency and the national bird — an NPC (Rhys Darby) informs them that they have to return a sacred gem to a mountain to get back home. There’s a final boss (Bobby Cannavale) after them, and another human player (Nick Jonas) somewhere ahead.
The opportunity to riff on video-game tropes and structure is pretty much ignored, perhaps out of a fear by the screenwriters — all six of them — that the all-ages appeal of the movie will be compromised by ... well, any specificity whatsoever. In fact, the comedy is underplayed throughout, as Welcome to the Jungle relies on the charm and charisma of its stars to paint over long stretches without a gag.
Fortunately, there’s plenty of charm to go around. The movie belongs to the duo of Johnson and Gillan, who are responsible for the most successful bits and have the flair to carry the swiss-cheese plot. Hart has his moments (it’s hard for him not to) and Black does pretty much what he always does. But like so many franchises before, Johnson proves that he can carry anything; the delight in Welcome to the Jungle, such as it is, is seeing Gillan easily keep up with him.
My Rating: 6/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark