Director: Jake Kasdan
Writers: Chris McKenna (screenplay by), Erik Sommers (screenplay by)
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Jack Black
It’s been nearly 22 years since the original Jumanji film released in the UK back in 1996. I’m going to level with you. This is a fact that I struggle to comprehend. I vividly remember watching Alan Parish (Robin Williams) pop out of the board game with his bushy beard and eccentric personality. And listen, despite not being the greatest film in the world, it had its charm and as a child I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Fast forward two decades and clearly somebody at Sony Pictures had a momentous brainstorm during a field trip to Vietnam or something because it was time for a new Jumanji film to enter our midst. Now again, I’m going to level with you. I wasn’t looking forward to this release. A conclusion formed from a combination of “not another bloody reboot” and apprehension at destroying a happy childhood memory. I’m pleased to say, however, that this film has surprised me and is actually pretty decent.
It’s not a reboot for one or at least I don’t think it is anyway. It appears to carry on in the same universe, opening in 1996 as a teenager called Alex happens upon the mysterious board game on a beach. He’s soon sucked into it and much like Parish before him, disappears off the face of the Earth. It then jumps into the present day and follows the daily routine of the awkward Spencer (Alex Wolff), as he does homework for his estranged friend Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain). An act which lands him and Fridge in detention.
Joining them in the cleaning duties are Bethany (Madison Iseman) and Martha (Morgan Turner). Almost inevitably, Spencer discovers the Jumanji video game in the storage room, they all join for a game (isn’t it convenient that there was four controllers?), picking a character each and then they’re all subsequently sucked into the game mere moments later. Now that we’ve got that rather boring cliched stuff out the way, the film takes us to a place the original never let us see. The actual environment Alan Parish was trapped in for all those years.
It also transforms our four teenage protagonists into distinctly different people. During their journey to the Jumanji universe (I don’t know what else to call it really), they become the actual game avatars they each selected. This causes much consternation as Spencer (Dwayne Johnson) has now tripled in size; Fridge (Kevin Hart) has shrunken by a similar amount; Bethany (Jack Black) has went from being a vain, phone obsessed blonde to a middle aged, fat man and Martha (Karen Gillan) has taken on a fiery, red head Lara Croft persona.
This aspect of the film was quite unique in its application and the most enjoyable part for me. Just off the top of my head, I can’t recall it ever really happening before in a film. Red Dwarf did something very similar in an episode, but I really enjoyed the way they flipped things around here, completely changing the dynamics between the four in doing so. It also flung up the crazy situation of Jack Black playing a teenage girl.
It then introduces the quartet to the mission they face, the games interesting mechanics (certainly surrounding the re-spawning), each character’s strengths and weaknesses, and also propels the film straight into action in doing so. The general gist of the films plot at least superficially anyway, is that they have to find a gem and take it to a mountain top, before calling out Jumanji. If you scratch under the surface however there’s deeper stuff going on within each character. They all have to work together just to make it through the world and learn about strengths and traits they never thought they possessed.
I thought the leading quarter were all very strong and I struggle to pick a definitive favourite, but if you were to twist my arm then I’d probably go for Jack Black. It was incredible the way he took on the personality of a teenage girl. He really imbued the film with plenty of comedic moments. Dwayne Johnson was great again in a role that is right up his street. There was also a slight fragility to his character that we don’t often see. Kevin Hart was his usual self. He’s got brilliant chemistry with Johnson and there was a few hilarious moments between the two. Karen Gillan is a great actress and she perfectly embodied the shy, awkwardness of Martha.
If I was to have one criticism of the film then it would be the distinct lack of threat throughout. There was an antagonist in there, but honestly, he made so little impact on me that I couldn’t even tell you his name. There was never a point in the film when I felt any of them would die. For instance, Bethany sacrifices a life (they’ve got three each), which incidentally signalled a new found maturity to save Alex (Nick Jonas), yeah he giddily pops up to meet them in a town they visit, but the moment lacks impact for the reason above.
Indeed, they’re all whittled down to one remaining life by the end, but there’s a very James Bond-esque inevitably about their survival.
Speaking of endings, this one was a fairly identikit happily ever after effort. There’s a quick showdown, they manage to save Jumanji, make it back to the real world and everyone is on friendly terms. Spencer and Martha get together and even Alex was returned back to 1996, not missing a day, which in turn causes a whole Back to the Future alternate reality shift. Which leaves me pondering that Alan Parish must’ve been a right unlucky git.
Now I know that sounds hypercritical of me, but I really did enjoy this film. The visuals were outstanding, the characters were pretty well fleshed out and had good chemistry together, the humour was a hit for the most part and the action was excellent. It was a stereotypical popcorn flick that frankly flew in and I would have zero hesitation in recommending it to just about everybody.