JUMANJ was one of those 90s films. At the risk of being pilloried, I’m going to say it: it wasn’t great. It hasn’t aged well either, but there was definitely something about it, something that means a lot of people in their 20s have a lot of affection for it. WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE is the latest nostalgic revival that aims to pay lip-service to what has come before and provide a reason to return to this world, pleasing old fans and new. It’s actually pretty successful.
When four reluctant high school companions find a magic video game in detention, they get flung into the jungle world of Jumanji, trapped there until their in-game quest is complete. Their virtual avatars (Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart and Jack Black) may be very different from their real-world selves, but they must overcome their shortcomings and fears to survive.
Welcome to the Jungle may be frequently stupid, but I can’t deny I quite liked it. It’s a charismatic cast playing entertaining archetypes, running away from rampaging imaginary animals and poking fun at well-known video game conventions. Rhys Darby shows up as an Non Player Character and speaks entirely in looped dialogue responses, characters die horribly then pop back into existence as they “respawn” moments later, everyone has a designated special skill and weakness that comes to the fore at a key moment.
I never realised how much I wanted to see Jack Black playing a teenage girl. Karen Gillan proves herself a gifted physical comedian, perfectly embodying someone awkward inhabiting a much rangier body than she’s used to. Martha/Ruby’s disastrous attempt to distract a pair of goons is a standout comic skit. The actors match really well and tellingly are credited as Spencer/Young Spencer, Martha/Young Martha rather than real-person/video-game character. By the way, Smoulder Bravestone is the best ridiculous character name since EXPENDABLES villain Conrad Stonebanks. I do miss the campy colonialist bastard Van Pelt as gleefully played by Jonathan Hyde in the original. Here, the chief villain reimagined as a warlord and played with not very much gusto by Bobby Cannavale with a milky eye and creepy crawlies coming out of his coat.
The Sony product placement is painfully blatant, but it always is in Sony movies. It’s not quite as egregious an ad for Sony tech as THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, but the loving, lingering shots on their products at the most random of moments are pretty bad. There are occasions where the film forgets what it is and becomes generic greenscreen action durge as well (not to mention forgetting what era of video games it is supposed to be parodying) and I could have done with just a few less dick jokes. These are minor criticisms in the grand scheme of things, and shouldn’t ruin the ride.
The basic plot and relationships of Jumanji 2 a lot like 2017 POWER RANGERS, which in turn nicked a lot from THE BREAKFAST CLUB. The main difference between this Jumanji and that Power Rangers aside from the wildlife not being made of chrome is that I actually cared about this gang of misfits because they have chemistry and consistent personalities. The unlikely group get lumped together in detention and gets launched on an even less likely adventure whereupon they have to come to terms with themselves. The film is peppy, funny and surprisingly emotionally satisfying; not bad for a sequel that could have been unbridled cinematic junk food. Alright, it is a bit junky, but at least it comes from a better class of fast food joint, one with nice sauces. SSP