It’s been 22 years since Joe Johnston brought us the original “Jumanji” which starred the late Robin Williams. That film was so much fun and had a sense of magical wonder that very few films today inhabit. It of course had Mr. Williams in one of his most memorable performances. This brings us to “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” which is not so much a remake, as it is a continuation to the original. Normally, I would prefer a continuation over a remake anytime. However, even though both films take place in the same universe, they don’t have the same feel and the latest venture lacks in heart.
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” opens in 1996 (a year after the first film ended), the “Jumanji” board game is found on a beach and brought home and given to a teenager who much rather play video games, so the board game magically turns into a video game and sucks the kid in. Cut-to present day, four kids kind themselves serving detention at school for different reasons. There is the nerd, Spencer (Alex Wolff), the jock, Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), the pretty popular girl, Bethany (Madison Iseman), and the outcast loner Martha (Morgan Turner).
When the students find an old video game console with a Jumanji cart placed inside, they decide to hook it up and kill some time. Of course, it sucks them into the game, which is set in the jungle. Each of the kids have taken on the identity of the game avatars they selected. Spencer is now played by Dwayne Johnson, Fridge is Kevin Hart, Martha is Karen Gillan, and Bethany is Jack Black. Trust me when I say that Jack Black as a self-involved teenage girl is the best part of the movie.
Now that they are stuck in the game, they soon learn that the only way out is to complete the mission. They must return the powerful blue stone to it’s rightful place which will save Jumanji. Unfortunately, they have a-number-of dangerous obstacles in their way, including the villainous Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) who wants the stone for himself. There is another issue. Each player is given three lives, if they die three times in the game, they die for real. Each Avatar in the game has their own special strengths and weaknesses. When we learn that Fridge’s avatar’s weakness is cake, we know that he is going to eat some cake at some point. Especially since that is given away in the film’s trailer.
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” has a very talented cast. For me, Hart is much funnier when he is part of a larger ensemble rather than trying to carry a film on his own. “Less is more” is the best term when it comes to the comedic actor. Dwayne Johnson has proven that he can balance action and comedy, and he does a good job here, but it’s Jack Black that is a scene stealer this time around. I just wish director Jake Kasdan allowed himself to be a little more influenced by the original. There are a few laughs to be had in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” but for me, I just didn’t find it to be as funny as it should have been with a cast like this.
By: Marc Ferman