Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has been the biggest holiday 2017 hit not to feature lightsabers, and rightly so. Who’d have thought a sequel to a 20-year-old Robin Williams film about an enchanted board game (based on the brilliant book by Chris Van Allsburg) would have been A) good and B) a complete and total blast. Deftly utilizing the conventions of video games and the comedic talents of its four leads, Jumanji is pure action-adventure fun.
I firmly believe there is literally nothing Dwayne Johnson cannot do. Last year, he sang in Moana, this year, he plays a neurotic teenage Jewish germophobe utilizing his absurdly chiseled frame as an avatar. The brilliant plot convention in Jumanji is that the board game has transformed itself into a video game to keep up with the times. It sucks four teenage stereotypes: the jock, the nerd, the mouse, and the cheerleader into its adventure, but then sticks those personalities into the worst possible host Hollywood could possibly generate to match their real-life counterparts. While the nerd gains the power of THE ROCK, the jock is shrunk to Kevin Hart size, the mousy girl ends up in the stunning Karen Gillan, and the ditzy beauty queen is imprisoned inside of Jack Black (best thing to happen to Jack Black in at least a decade).
Jumanji IS the best video game movie ever made, even if it isn’t an adaptation. It uses all the conventions of the medium: limited lives, character skills, levels, bosses, NPCs, cut scenes, and more to push the plot along a fast-paced, comedic action roller coaster. If the plot is thin…..well so are most video games, and every one of the characters is more than aware that they’re trapped within one. It doesn’t waste time trying to be more than what it is, and mainly the entire jungle serves as a showcase for the movie’s true star: their four leads’ complete and utter dorkiness within their host bodies.
The movie has some nice action set pieces, but the best parts of the film come when the four leads are playing off each other. Hart and Johnson have proven comedic chemistry from Central Intelligence and need to work together as much as possible. Gillan gets to showcase more than just her Guardians of the Galaxy fighting skills. Her attempt at distracting guards by flirting for the first time in her life may be the funniest scene in the film. And how awesome is it to see Jack Black with something to do? He embraces being a self-involved teenage beauty trapped in the body of a portly middle-aged man with all the energy you’d expect and the result is nearly Tenacious D-level awesome.
It’s not great cinema. It’s not going to win any awards, but Jumanji is a blockbuster that took the time to spend money on talent and writing to go along with its special effects. The box office results speak for themselves, and they are well-deserved.