Taking place twenty years after the events of the first film, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle evolves into a video game set in a jungle complete with human-eating albino rhinos and a deadly mission for the protagonists to complete before they can return to the real world. While the film is a nod to late actor Robin Williams, who starred in the original version, the modern approach it takes by turning the game into a video game and its players into avatars feels fresh and relatable.
The film begins by introducing the four main leads in their predictable and ultra clichéd lives. The geek, Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolf), is the smart one, always striving for approval and attention. His best friend Anthony “Fridge” Johnson (Ser’Darius Blain), is the high school football star who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. The beautiful blonde, Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman), a self-absorbed teenager obsessed with her looks and her cell phone. And of course, the nerdy red head, Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner), who thinks sports are a waste of time, and prefers to spend her days in pursuit of an Ivy League education.
When all four teens end up serving detention in an old cellar going through a stack of magazines for recycling, they find an old video game system, with Jumanji already inside. Curious, they plug it into the old TV monitor that happens to be in the room with them, and decide to play for a few minutes before returning to the chore at hand. They choose their avatars and prepare to play. But as we all know, they’re in for a lot more than what they bargained for. In a great big green swirl, the four teenagers are sucked into the world of Jumanji…
In the heart of the jungle, right out of the sky, come flying in our four main heroes, all in their chosen avatar bodies. Spencer as Dr. Smolder Bravestone an archaeologist (Dwayne Johnson), Bethany as Professor Shelly Oberon a cartographer and cryptographer (Jack Black), Fridge as Franklin “Moose” Finbar a zoologist and weapons specialist (Kevin Hart) and Martha as Ruby Roundhouse a commando (Karen Gillian). This is when the movie really begins, only its pace is hindered by the slow progression of character development while the avatars figure out their strengths and weaknesses, both through trial and error, and through a cool visual effect that displays each of their traits on the screen, much like a video game would.
Of course, with a weakness like ‘cake’ and a strength like ‘smoldering’ one can only prepare for an adventure unlike any other.
Unfortunately, this is where the movie begins to disappoint. While the characters are given a clear mission, guided by a map that only the cartographer can see, their journey consists of highly reactive actions that just keep them running away from one thing, which inevitably leads them to another thing, that happens to be important to the completion of their mission. The passivity of the story grows monotonous. However, just as I was giving up all hope that this could be an enjoyable movie, our avatars run into Alex (Nick Jonas), another avatar in the game world of Jumanji who’s more familiar with the terrain. Like a breath of fresh air, Alex infuses the remaining hour of the film with meaningful purpose and renewed energy.
The second half of the movie is when we see our avatars, along with Alex, take charge and kick ass, risking their lives for each other and for the sake of the mission. Since each avatar only has a total of three lives, and death in the game world means death in the real world, it becomes a race against time itself.
With lead actors Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, audiences can expect lots of laughs, mixed in with beautiful cinematography, gripping sound and an amazing stunt crew. Lesser-known comedy actor Rhys Darby takes on the small role of Nigel, their makeshift guide, and Bobby Cannavale plays John Hardin, the main antagonist in the film. Unlike our main protagonists who experience the full arc of the film’s theme of identity, both of these characters feel underdevelopment and without much sense of purpose, other than being used as tools for the story.
Walking away from this film, it’s hard not to compare our lives to that of our avatars, whether they be on social media, video games, or other online profiles. So many of us lead such different lives to the ones we choose to portray in the virtual world. The film highlights these differences in a predictable, yet amusing way, showing us that an attractive blonde can learn to walk in the shoes of a short fat man, and a geeky, out of place teenage boy, can find his way in a jungle, walking tall, with biceps he can only dream of one day having.
Overall, the kids will enjoy the adventure and comedy action, while adults will appreciate the jokes not meant for the kiddos. Filled with action packed adventure, comedy, and even a few heartfelt moments, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle finds its stead in the latter half of the film. While it won’t win any awards, it’s definitely a treat the whole family can enjoy in theaters this Holiday season, apart from a certain space saga, of course.