Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
by George Wolf
Do you hear a ruckus?
It’s coming from some easily identifiable high schoolers in detention, but this time they’re in an old storage room filled with everything from old magazines to a gaming system from the 1990s.
Turns out, that’s the same decade the soul-sucking Jumanji morphed from board to video cartridge, so the nerd, the jock, the queen bee and the outcast decide to power up this mystery game and kill some time.
In an instant, Welcome to the Jungle puts them all in the heart of one, playing for their lives as the avatars they chose, which just happen to be the polar opposites of their “real” selves.
Yes, convenient, but director Jake Kasdan and an extremely likable cast squeeze a fine amount of fun from a colorful adventure that follows its own advice for a healthy self-image.
Nerdy Spencer becomes the muscular hero (Dwayne Johnson), athletic “Fridge” is now the diminutive sidekick (Kevin Hart), and introvert Martha becomes a Lara Croft-y babe (Karen Gillan) while the self-absorbed beauty faces life as Jack Black.
Some solid laughs are landed from the foursome discovering their new gaming strengths (“smoldering intensity”), weaknesses (“cake”) and body parts (“don’t forget to aim!”), with the actors’ willingness to poke fun at their own images only adding to the good vibes.
There are some effective set pieces, but the overall heroics required to get back home are fairly standard, and Kasdan (Bad Teacher, Sex Tape, the under-appreciated Walk Hard) wisely doesn’t overreach. He’s not tasked with one-upping Indiana Jones, and keeps things focused more on the breezy fun to be had with his stars. These moments when the tone hits a frisky groove of self-awareness (no doubt aided by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, two writers from the wonderful Spider-Man: Homecoming) are the film’s high points, making it easier to look past some shaky CGI or an overly cartoonish villain (Bobby Cannavale, in yet another over-the-top waste of his talent).
The teens have to learn something today, so Welcome to the Jungle can’t hold that tone throughout, but it displays enough of a commitment to character-based comedy for a ruckus worth exploring.