‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ is Just Fun Enough
The highs aren’t that high, but this belated sequel doesn’t have any significant lows, either.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle kicks off in 1996, where the old board game is found on a beach, taken home, and magically turns into a game cartridge. In present day, teenagers Spencer, Fridge, Martha, and Bethany (Alex Wolff, Ser’Darius Blain, Morgan Turner and Madison Iseman) find the game while doing detention, and are magically zapped into it. Inside the perilous world of the game, they take on the roles of the game’s characters (Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, and Jack Black), and in order to get back into the real world, they have to work together to lift a mystical curse from Jumanji.
This sequel bears very little actual connection to the 1995 film. It immediately changes the dynamic of the story by having the teenage characters transform into in-game avatars. The film basically builds a lot of its screenplay around the incongruity of who these teens are and what their avatars represent. It does so pretty broadly: the nerdy hypochondriac Spencer becomes the fearless action hero Smolder Bravestone. His football player ex-best friend becomes a dimunitive sidekick. The popular girl becomes an overweight academic, and the loner outsider becomes a Tomb Raider-style adventurer.
The plot feels incidental, but that’s inherent to the design of Jumanji. The characters just face a succession of perils that play out as a series of levels. If Jumanji was a real game, it doesn’t seem like a very good one. But the film just embraces the possibilities of the premise and uses the game as a platform for telling a story of teens being taken out of their comfort zone. So nerdy Spencer learns to be fearless, and Bethany learns to not be so self-obsessed. At least that’s what the film does in theory. By the end, Fridge’s arc feels a little murky. In fact, there’s something left a little unresolved.
It’s mildly fun, at best. But it doesn’t really dip all that low, either. It gets pretty funny as it explores the possibilities of sticking these John Hughes teen constructs in incongruous physical forms. It doesn’t really go anywhere particularly interesting, but what’s there is fairly entertaining. Every now and then, the action sequences distinguish themselves by displaying a rather unique cartoonish sensibility. The film wastes a little too much time on swooping establishing shots and endless chases, but when Dwayne Johnson gets to punch people, it gets pretty fun.
To that point, it’s the cast that ultimately provides most of the appeal of this film. It really gets by on the charisma of its leads. Dwayne Johnson is the perfect kind of absurd in what basically functions as the film’s lead role. Jack Black, playing a teenage girl stuck in a Jack Black body, avoids many of the landmines inherent to this development, and instead becomes a reliable source of laughs for this movie. He attacks the role with real gusto. Kevin Hart plays really well with Johnson, the two exhibiting potent comedic chemistry. Karen Gillan shows off some real comedic chops playing against her much more seasoned co-stars as well.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is okay. It’s very okay. It doesn’t quite feel like the kind of film that will be remembered five years from now, its genial appeal barely lasting five minutes outside the cinema. And even in the moment, the film feels like it’s stretching out that moment for many fifteen minutes too long. But theirs is nothing majorly wrong with it, and the charisma of its stars go a long way in making the experience pleasant and more or less enjoyable.
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.