Written By: Nigel Asipa
Jumanji – “a game for those who seek to find a way to leave their world behind”
When it comes to beloved classics, especially cult classics, people are understandably protective of their endearing, relatable or ones that resonated with them through childhood and set a standard for their movie-going experience thereafter. Like many consider Michael Keaton’s take on Batman to be their favourite, in as much as they admire Christian Bale, Ben Affleck or hey…even Adam West.
Helmed by Joe Johnston who directed the equally whimsical Honey, I shrunk the kids, 1995’s Jumanji was an exciting and touching adventure that captured Robin Williams’ madcap, warm humour. It also offered some hysterical characters and genuine thrills, although the special effects are kind of dated by today’s standards. I’d only seen it recently, scowled by many for not seeing it sooner. I certainly understand why it was a hit with audiences, especially those of 20+ years.
So how does Jake Kasdan’s (Sex Tape, Bad Teacher) stab at alluring audiences to the world of Jumanji measure up? Well, I’m not speaking as a die-hard fan myself, but for someone who at least appreciated the lasting effect the original had, I’m pleased to report that Welcome To The Jungle is the first surprise of 2018. In some respect it betters the original; with more well-rounded characters, improved special effects and nods to our current cultures affinity to gaming in general. But of course, Mr Williams was the glue that held the original together and the source of much of its charm.
So understandably this had some boots to fill. Many will still hold the original dear to their heart as Hollywood wasn’t overrun with as many adaptations, reboots and sequels as we’re saturated with now. But thanks to winning performances, thrilling action and parodying glee, Welcome To The Jungle is an adventure that nicely appeases to audience’s expectations.
The opening sequence follows soon after the events of the original but separate from the Parrish family. The board game soon realises it’s appeal to that ages generation of kids and changes into a video game cartridge. Suffice to say one kid gets a little too curious upon hearing the drumbeats many of us would be familiar with and is soon transported into the cartridge.
Fast track 20 years on we head to Brantford High School, we meet some stock character kids; Video Game guru Spencer (Alex Wolff), boneheaded jock Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), superficial millennial Bethany (Madison Iseman) and the reserved, cynical Martha (Morgan Turner). They all land in detention for various reasons and discover an unused video game console. Better than pulling staples out of magazines, they each decide to give the dusty old game a go. After each chooses an avatar, all of a sudden a bright green light appears, and each of them is transported into the game.
Spencer becomes Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson, a name he probably came up with), Fridge becomes Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart), Martha becomes Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), and Bethany becomes Dr Shelly Oberon (Jack Black). While they all get to grips with the strange and dire reality they’re all in, Bethany’s pressing matter is the whereabouts of her one and only companion; her phone.
Realising they all have particular skills and vulnerabilities, in comes Nigel Billingsley (Rhys Darby) a non-playable character to provide the avatars and us some exposition or in this case a cutscene of the reasoning their being here. They must take the ‘Jaguar Eye’ (an emerald of immense power) to an eye socket of an enormous statue. All while avoiding the nefarious nemesis of Bravestone, Dr Van Pelt; the crazed villain who wants Jumanji under his rule who can communicate with the animals of the jungle.
What’s remarkable about WTTJ is that the avatars are very believable of their younger counterparts; it would almost seem as if the younger cast gave the older cast some pointers on how to be like them, you can practically envision the kids doing all these stunts. The chemistry between Johnson, Hart, Black and Gillan is terrific, watching them playing off their star persona or exhibiting insecurity and angst forms the running gags with an impressive laughter hit rate.
All the cast are in fine form but the scene-stealing showcase has to go to Jack Black’s hilarious turn as the whiny, self-obsessed Bethany. Johnson and Hart are almost inseparable at this point with Hart pretty much playing Hart and Johnson at his most goofy since Pain and Gain (watch for the smouldering intensity gags). The great Bobby Cannavale as Dr Van Pelt is criminally underused however. His moustache twirling villain just hisses and boos with one note effect.