When Spencer “the nerd” (Alex Wolff), Fridge “the jock” (Ser’Darius Blain), Bethany “the princess” (Madison Iseman), and Martha “the smart one” (Morgan Turner) are sent to the school’s basement for detention, they end up opening a portal into the world of Jumanji.
Inhabiting archetypal video-game avatars in direct contrast to the real-world selves, our four teens with attitude have to rid the world of a curse while maneuvering through social and personal conflicts.
It’s a mix of Freaky Friday and the Breakfast Club, but the action/adventure twist makes Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle a fun film. It also helps that the movie doesn’t eschew character building and development.
Spencer, familiar with video game mechanics, takes the lead as the muscle-bound explorer Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) while Fridge takes a sidekick role, entering the game as the zoologist Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), a diminutive researcher whose special ability allows him to hold weapons. Bethany, whose cell-phone addiction has kept her distracted throughout high school, takes the role of the portly Professor Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black), the group’s cartographer, and Martha takes on a more active position in the group’s dynamic as the group’s physical bruiser Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan).
Because video game rules apply, all sorts of ridiculousness happens, and the result is an entertaining romp through the jungle where characters punch combatants into space while learning a little about living your last life to its fullest.
Written by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, and Jeff Pinkner, the script is intelligent and well-thought out. There’s humor in the right doses, and the freaky-Friday perspectives create contrasts, which are heightened as we follow characters whose personalities conflict with their visual identities and abilities.
Director Jake Kasdan paces the movie giving each character a chance to shine and interact, and the relationships change and grow until the movie’s life-affirming ending with a great message for teens who may feel like they’re living in someone else’s body as they go through puberty.
The acting is great, and it’s a treat to see stars play characters that are, on one hand, on type, who are being inhabited by characters who aren’t. Johnson and Hart have chemistry as two friends learning how to work together in a new dynamic, and Gillan and Black are even better working with the friction their characters feel. Gillan takes on young Martha’s mannerisms and wears them as her own while Black takes full advantage of his role’s comedic outlets. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Black this inspired, and his physical comedy complements the style of the movie.
It’s a movie that surpasses its predecessor on most accounts. It’s exciting, funny, and family friendly. In an era of Hollywood movies where audiences are more jaded than ever and weary of the constant barrage of sequels, reboots, and remakes, this one is an example of a sequel done right.
It takes the original’s premise, reassembles it for a modern-day audience, and it adds some fresh ideas into the mix without destroying the memory of its forebear.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
Directed by: Jake Kasdan
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Bobby Cannavale, and Nick Jonas