Possible spoilers ahead!
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” starts in present day with four very different high schoolers: nerdy Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff), rebellious Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner), football star Anthony “Fridge” Johnson (Ser’Darius Blain), and popular girl Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman). All four find themselves in detention together, which leads to them cleaning out an old storage room at school as part of their punishment.
Once there, the four teenagers find an old video game called Jumanji. After Spencer and Fridge set the system up, they manage to convince Martha and Bethany to take a break and play the game with them. But that’s when the video game magically sucks all four teens, one by one, into its virtual world. When they arrive in the world of Jumanji, the teenagers find they have transformed into the respective characters that they picked from the game, including: Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Franklin “Moose” Finbar (Kevin Hart), Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), and Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black).
The four soon discover that they each posses unique abilities and strengths, as well as weaknesses that will come into play eventually. More importantly, the kids learn that they each have only three lives before it’s game over, perhaps for real. Left with no other choice, the group is forced to work together and find a way to win the game by removing the curse that has been placed upon the land of Jumanji by the evil John Hardin Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale). If they succeed, they may return home. If they don’t, they’ll either be stuck in Jumanji forever, or die.
Welp, talk about a pleasant surprise.
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is a (quasi) sequel to the 1995 action-adventure film “Jumanji,” which starred Robin Williams. But unlike the original film which was more dramatic, Welcome to the Jungle is a flat-out comedy. The crazy thing is, it works. Welcome to the Jungle is an entertaining return to the world of Jumanji, and it made me laugh from start to finish.
I liked the idea of making Jumanji a video game rather than a board game like in the first film. Doing that made it more relatable to today’s audience. Also, compared to the 90’s film, the action is definitely bigger in welcome to the Jungle, but that’s to be expected with Dwayne Johnson starring, and with a larger budget. The visual effects were solid for the most part too, except for a rhino stampede in the third act that looked a bit rushed to me. But I thought the rest of it was quite well done.
The best thing I can say about “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is that the cast is just awesome. Okay, so the teenaged protagonists are presented as two-dimensional teenage stereotypes, but it doesn’t matter because we only spend about 15 minutes with them. Welcome to the Jungle doesn’t waste too much time getting to the main cast and to the world of Jumanji.
Everyone on the main cast was good, but I think my favorite was Jack Black as Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon. As crazy as it sounds, he’s really good at playing a teenage girl. Black is clearly having a blast playing the part of an attractive teenaged girl trapped in the body of a middle-aged overweight man.
The People’s Champion and Karen Gillan also fully commit to their respective characters and teen personas. The Rock gets some really funny moments when he acts scared and nearly bursts into tears in front of the others. Gillian’s Ruby Roundhouse is an obvious riff on ’90s era Lara Croft, but there’s more to her than meets the eye. In fact, she had some of the best fight scenes in the film. Meanwhile, Kevin Hart is doing the same thing he always does: making short jokes.
One thing Welcome to the Jungle didn’t do well was build the world of Jumanji. I would have liked to learn more about the mythology of the place. I also would have liked to have seen other parts of Jumanji, not just the jungle where the four heroes land. But maybe we’ll get more world building in the sequels, time will tell.
Even with a couple of minor complaints here and there, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” was a fun action adventure that left me wanting to see more. Whether you saw the original or not, Welcome to the Jungle is a movie that young and old will enjoy.
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” score: B+