Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Review: Fun and Games

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Did you ask for your Jumanji sequel with a side of Breakfast Club? Because that’s what Welcome to the Jungle ends up being, which  is just one of its several pleasant surprises. Look, I’m a ‘90s kid and even I didn’t really ask for this sequel. The original is a very solid action-comedy and a strong showcase for Robin Williams, but certainly nothing revelatory. Luckily, director Jake Kasdan seems to carry that same sentiment, using the original as more of a springboard than a sacred text.

We open in 1996 when the board game is passed on—by no more than the laws of the universe—to a whiny teenager who huffs to himself that nobody plays board games anymore, and then resumes his video game. Overnight, Jumanji adjusts itself and the board turns into a ‘90s era video game cartridge. And there’s your sequel idea, folks. Fast forward to the present and four teenagers who run in very different circles, if they have a circle at all, wind up in detention, where in the school’s basement they come across the discarded Jumanji video game. They plug it in, pick their characters, and wham, they’re inside the video game. The nerd is turned into the strapping hero (Dwayne Johnson), the jock is turned into the sidekick zoologist (Kevin Hart), the loner girl is turned into a martial arts master (Karen Gillan), and the popular girl is turned into the overweight cartographer (Jack Black). Simple? Oh yeah, but oddly the right kind of simple.

Welcome to the Jungle is a dumb movie, but it wields it’s dumbness in some really smart ways. Flipping the characters’ strengths and weaknesses on each other is a rewarding way to propel their characters arcs. The video game in-jokes largely work, as Hollywood has yet to figure out how to adapt that art form to the big screen, leaving this film to soak up some of that untapped potential. But most of all, the cast is honestly just incredibly funny. Johnson and Gillan do great work as two nerds suddenly with immense physical strengths and good looks. Hart sticks close to his general typecast, but that’s hardly a problem, using the fear of being emasculated to his advantage once again. The standout, however, is Black, who takes what is definitely an easy joke and commits so fully to it that you’ll believe he’s actually a 16-year-old girl. A scene in which he has to ask his fellow male companions how to urinate is, admittedly, hilarious.

But when the film gets into its third act and the plot forces the characters to fight the big boss (Bobby Cannavale, not quite used to his full potential), things go downhill. Welcome to the Jungle is rarely outright bad, but these scenes are more of a chore than the rest of the film, not really finding any new ways to stand out from the typical CGI fare. Still, the rest of the film is entertaining enough that it’s not derailed. This sequel ends up being a pretty welcome surprise: forgettable to be sure, but fun and easily digestible enough that it’s hardly a terrible way to spend two hours. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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