“If we as an industry feel we must be shackled to franchises for name recognition sales, this seems like a good way for the creative to beat the system; just make something cool and randomly slap a franchise name onto it.”-Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw
Croshaw was referring to the video game industry, but this quote could just as easily apply to the film industry, and especially to the new Jumanji film, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. The new Jumanji is a total reboot in all but name. This movie could have easily been an unrelated, stand-alone film, and for the most part, functions that way aside from the iconography of the Jumanji universe and a few references and homages to the previous film (especially that of Robin William’s character, Alan Parrish). As it stands, however, Welcome to the Jungle is a humorous, big-budget adventure film with a light-hearted tone that stands in stark contrast to the original.
The original Jumanji was one of those films that was marketed as “family friendly” but scared and scarred many young children with its dark tone, terrifying sequences with strange and exotic flora and fauna, and life or death stakes resulting in excellent dramatic tension. It was an extremely popular movie, and grossed over $260 million worldwide, in the process becoming the tenth highest grossing film of 1995. Despite having a good ending, Hollywood never knows when to leave well enough alone and will reboot, reimagine, remake, and “re-will-it-make-us-money” any property with decent name recognition it can get its hands on. I’m honestly amazed that it took so long for this to happen to Jumanji. Welcome to the Jungle was stuck in production hell for over five years and it endured numerous changes and rewrites until we received the final product.
Welcome to the Jungle is again, ostensibly a sequel, but in reality, is a full reboot. The Jumanji board game transformed itself into a video-game console, and the entire game is now the jungle that Alan Parrish was stuck in for twenty-six years in the first film. The new Jumanji game manages to find its way to a High School storage area, and four teens are unwittingly sucked into the game. The four teens are represented in the game by their video game avatars, Spencer, a shy, nerdy bookworm controls the avatar Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), while his former friend, Anthony “Fridge” Johnson, a football star is represented by the avatar Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart). Bethany Walker, an incredibly superficial, self-centered ‘pretty girl’ is represented by the avatar Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon. Lastly, Martha Kaply, a geeky social outcast is represented by the avatar Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillian).
In case you haven’t realized it, the main joke that the film gets tons of mileage out of is that the students chose avatars that are the diametric opposite of their actual personalities and looks. The nerdy bookworm is the brave, handsome, intelligent hero of the story, Dr. Smolder Bravestone, who has no known weaknesses, while the imposing football player is now a short zoologist who acts as a weapons valet to Dr. Bravestone. The superficial pretty girl becomes a fat balding, older man, and the geeky social outcast is recast as a sexy action heroine and martial arts expert. Thankfully, the cast has great comedic chops and chemistry together, and the film has some genuinely funny moments. Each cast member gets time to shine, and space to get good jokes in, and it never feels as though we focus too much on any one character.
Not to spoil anything, but Karen Gillian’s martial arts moves are some of the funniest scenes in the movie. The only problem with this is that the characters are very one-dimensional and the plot is extremely predictable. Nerdy guy finds the courage to be brave and gets the girl at the end, the one who lacked self-confidence but was pretty the whole time? Check. Two former but fallen out friends learn to work together and repair their relationship by the end? Check. Selfish, superficial girl learns that the world is bigger than her and that she was living the life of a rude bitch? Check. There is a hint of depth towards the end, but its dashed on the rocks in favor of a traditional happy ending.
The two characters who really get the short end of the stick are Nick Jonas’s character, a kid who was sucked into the game twenty years before the other protagonists, and the main antagonist, Russel Van Pelt, portrayed by Bobby Cannavale. Nick Jonas is a poor actor, and his character is supposed to be the Alan Parrish of this movie, but we don’t care about him because we never learn about him or his family, other than two short scenes. He’s not very funny, I don’t care about his plight, and he is completely outclassed by every other main cast member. He’s not even featured in the movie’s promotional posters.
I honestly have no idea what the hell Russel Van Pelt’s motivations are. The film says Van Pelt wanted the jewel of the Jaguar’s Eye to control animals or something, but not only does he seem to control animals all throughout the movie without the Jaguar’s Eye, it’s never explained what his goal is once he has the Jaguar’s Eye. Thus, we have an antagonist without any proper motivations, goals, or depth, and Van Pelt hardly gets any screen time anyway. Both of these criticisms are forgivable in a movie that has such an irreverent tone and focuses on its comedy and action spectacle to great success, but nevertheless, they’re worth mentioning.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a fun film that is heavy on the comedy and action, and light on the plot and character development. But that’s fine in an irreverent film with a light-hearted tone that spoofs video games as well as the teens of today. The film really gets great mileage out of the comedic talent of its main cast but suffers from an extremely poor antagonist whose motivations make no sense and isn’t characterized one iota. The film at least tries to give the characters some development, it's just a shame that it's so predictable and one dimensional. Welcome to the Jungle is a crowd-pleasing blockbuster that’s worth your time, and it’s already made a ton of money. So despite its definite ending, we’ll probably get Jumanji 3: Back to the Jungle soon enough.
TLDR: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a funny, light-hearted, and irreverent adventure film with a likable cast but a fairly predictable story. 3.5/5 Stars
-Edited By Austin Toner
“Top 5 of 2012.” Performance by Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw, The Escapist Magazine, Defy Media, LLC; Part of the Addicting Games Network, 2 Jan. 2013, www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/zero-punctuation/6677-Top-5-of-2012.