This 2017 American adventure comedy film, directed by Jake Kasdan as a sequel to the 1995 original ‘Jumanji’, stars Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale and Colin Hanks.
In 2016, four very different high school students find themselves in detention. Spencer (Alex Wolff) the nerd, Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) the jock, Bethany (Madison Iseman) the cheerleader and Martha (Morgan Turner) the bookworm.
Spencer and Fridge dust off an old video game console in their detention room and play a game called ‘Jumanji’. All four are sucked into the game world and become the characters they chosen with one goal – break an evil a curse over the mystical world and defeat explorer Russel Van Pelt (Cannavale) who set the curse himself.
Spencer becomes Dr Smolder Bravestone (Johnson), Fridge becomes Moose Finbar (Hart), Bethany becomes Professor Sheldon Oberson (Black) and Martha becomes Ruby Roundhouse (Gillan). The four must work together to traverse Jumanji’s dangers, defeat Van Pelt and save the kingdom before they are trapped in the game forever or die in the process…
Nothing is sacred today in Hollywood. All previous ideas are recycled and reboots, sequels and prequels are plucked out of thin air on a daily basis. But sometimes you get a film that initially sounds like a bad idea –a sequel to a beloved 90s film – but turns out to be something pretty good.
Now take away the late, great Robin Williams from the original ‘Jumanji’ and what do you have? A forgetful film with only a few memorable moments including a boy who turns into a monkey and some ropey CGI animals tearing up a house. Remove Williams, and the sentiment goes away. Because of his attachment, the film became something it didn’t quite deserve to be on its own merit and so I went into this loose sequel, set 20 years later, with no emotional attachment or reservations and I walked out feeling very satisfied, entertained and amused.
….jeez, when you walk out of a film like this feeling far better than you did walking out of ‘Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi’, you know your cinematic year hasn’t gone quite to plan, but I digress…
First and foremost, the winning factor for this film is our four leads. Johnson, Hart, Black and Gillan. All very different actors from different backgrounds, much like our teen characters, all representing different strengths, weaknesses and aspirations. Yes it’s a well-worn template and the theme of being accepted for who you are and what you can do is evident, but hey, if a bit of self-belief is promoted in film then what’s the harm? It’s not bogged down in sex jokes, swearing and stupid pratfalls – it’s a mature family adventure film and I think a rare treat these days and even Gillan, dressed in her skimpy jungle attire, makes it quite clear how absurd she looks and does what she can to cover herself.
Our leading stars are having fun, and it’s evident from their arrival in the video game world of Jumanji, cleverly brought up to date from the 90s board game because as one character says “Who plays board games?” anymore. The main characters may not be what you’d expect, because you need to remember they are their 18-20yr old teen minds in the bodies of these video game characters. So we get to see Johnson as a nerd, Black as a vain cheerleader, Hart as a football jock and Gillan as an outcast, all brought together by their new look bodies, skills and strengths. It’s a fun play on things, and it’s great to see the chemistry between all four leads.
Stand-out moments for me go to Black and Gillan in the ‘learning to flirt’ sequence and Johnson when he smoulders. Boy, does that man do a dramatic smoulder! I found myself grinning and chuckling away more than I expected, but all for the right reasons.
Bobby Cannavale is our creepy new incarnation of the Van Pelt villain, hamming it up as a cursed explorer who controls all the Jumanji animals and out to stop our heroes from saving the kingdom by returning a cursed jewel back to its rightful place. It’s B-movie stuff, and as director Jake Kasdan is son of Lawrence….you know, co-writer of some of those adventure films like ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, ‘Wyatt Earp’ and ‘The Force Awakens’…there is a strong Indiana Jones vibe in this tale.
Booby traps in underground tombs, exciting motorbike chases, helicopter rides, stampeding beasts, running, jumping, falling and swimming, bustling bazaar fights; it’s all here, and everything is delivered with 110% by the cast and especially leading man Johnson who continues to impress me with his grounded approach to comedy and action as he did in ‘Baywatch’, never veering into stupidity or exceeding the theme of the film he’s in. As all the actors do; they roll with the punches, get stuck in and have fun which in turns allows the audience to have fun and get involved in the 1hr 50min adventure.
With a few token nods to the original and a neat reference to Robin Williams’ character that bridges the Jumanji worlds, this may not break new ground for family adventure films, but it certainly delivers what you want from a December film based on a 90s original. It’s fun, well-paced and boasts some impressive action sequences and pop-culture references.
It doesn’t tarnish the original, and it rather eclipses it in some ways being bold enough to stand on its own two feet. Grab your popcorn and just enjoy. Welcome to the jungle – we got fun and games.