Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is out this weekend and – let’s be honest – expectations were low. It’s a comedy sequel that nobody asked for, out 22 years after the original. The precedence is not good. But in a crazy twist of Shyamalan-like proportions, this flick actually turned out extremely enjoyable.
Welcome to the Jungle is the story of four high school students who get sucked into Jumanji, now a video game instead of a board game. Once inside, they must play as their respective avatars (Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, & Karen Gillen) to beat the game and return home. Simple, right?
With a plot this simple, Jumanji becomes much more character-driven. Luckily, the performances from the main cast really bolster this movie and make it worth watching. Individually, Johnson, Hart, Black, & Gillen all bring the thunder and display stellar comedy chops. But collectively, their chemistry is off the charts and they manage to elevate each other’s performances. And that all goes for the younger actors that play the “real” high schoolers as well. In a movie that’s about teamwork, good chemistry goes a long way.
This is a truly funny flick, with a lot of the humor coming from the acting, and specifically from the actors playing against their usual type. Remember, they’re all supposed to be high school students in avatar bodies. So big, buff Dwayne Johnson is playing a nebbish nerd; Jack Black is playing a popular girl who’s obsessed with her phone. At first, it seems like it will get old fast, but it’s played really well as the story progresses and makes for the film’s best moments.
Once you venture outside of the main cast though, the characters and performances don’t stand out quite so much. Bobby Canavale’s villain is bland and forgettable; the same goes for Rhys Darby’s guide character. However, the huge caveat here is that these guys are playing actual video game characters. They’re supposed to be one-note; it’s actually played for a joke in the script. So although it’s unfortunate from a critical perspective, it’s not really something to hold against the movie. It’s just committing to the video game element.
And that’s something else that the new Jumanji does very well, commit to the video game element and establish the rules of the world. This movie could have easily gone badly, as many other have before, where characters just lay out a bunch of exposition establishing the rules of Jumanji. It’d be a boring waste of potential. But instead, the screenwriters show us the rules; we learn them along with the characters through action. And sometimes it’s beautifully subtle too. Minor things happen and the script doesn’t call that much attention to them, but they’re actually establishing rules that play a major role later on. The writers place a lot of trust in the audience to catch on to these things, which isn’t something I expected from a Jumanji sequel. Just another pleasant surprise.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a lot better than I think anyone expected it to be. It could have been a cookie-cutter flick that cases in on nostalgia, but instead the performances are solid and the laughs are well-earned. If you’re looking for a movie that’s just pure fun this holiday season, this here’s your ticket.