Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
(PG) Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan
Reminiscent of the action comedies storylines from the 80’s and 90’s, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has the potential to be a ridiculous disaster if it were not for the brilliant casting of all four lead characters. From the creative and hilarious screenplay of Chris McKenna (Community), this utterly ridiculous concept is made completely accessible to audiences and proves to be one of the funniest comedies of the year.
It is surprising that it has taken 22 years to bring out a sequel to the Robin Williams tale of the enchanted board game. This time instead of rolling the die, the players are picking up a game controller, this allows director Jake Kasden to bring a fresh spin on the classic children’s novel.
The story begins in 1996 with the disappearance of Alex Creeke after he chooses to try the video game with a bizarre name that was discovered by his father. Twenty-one years later, some of the teens from the neighbourhood and local high school find the dated but functional game in the basement of the school while serving detention. In an attempt to avoid the work given to them by their principal, they all decide to have a go at the Jumanji video game. After choosing their avatars within the imaginary jungle world, the real drama begins with the game drawing the four students into jungle world as these new personalities.
Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff) who is a good student and video game aficionado becomes the explorer Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson). The local football star finds himself as the zoologist and weapons specialist, Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart). Martha (Morgan Turner), the quiet bookworm who becomes the killer of men, Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). Then there is Bethany, the beautiful cheerleader, who discovers that she is the celebrated cartographer Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon, who happens to be a middle-aged man. The unlikely foursome must battle John Hardin Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) to return the Cursed Eye of the Jaguar to save the world of Jumanji and to help them get home.
Kasden and McKenna allow their lead actors to play to their strengths but manage to strike a delicate balance between these characters that make way for this joyride through the jungle. The inventiveness of McKenna’s writing is to excuse away plot-holes by capitalising on the stylings of the older video games. A few short, pithy lines manage to explain away sudden jumps in the story or unexplainable elements. The stellar cast supports the celebrated writer by slotting right into these roles and become the characters. Hart and Johnson play to their strengths of comedic timing and physical comedy with Gillan capitalising on her action-hero skills from Guardians of the Galaxy fame. Admittedly these stellar performances are eclipsed by Jack Black’s role as the man who is inhabited by a teenaged girl. Not since School of Rock has he dominated every scene that he has on screen.
The creators of the film do not attempt to take themselves too seriously, and it is nothing more than an enjoyable romp through the jungle. With the help of Dwayne Johnson, the team has delivered an engaging and entertaining option for this holiday season.
The life of a teenager has been known to be a time of insecurities in amongst their search for personal identity. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle taps into this uncertainty of this stage of life in a unique way, but ultimately it proves to be the same story for the need for these teens to become comfortable in their skins. The message of the film becomes a lesson for these young adults to discover their internal value despite what they see as the external limitations of their lives.
For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7
There is a biblical story of the rejection of a teenager named David. He was not even considered by his family as a consideration for leadership because of his youth and size. Even though it could be the source material for a modern teen drama, the end result was the beginning of one of the most celebrated lives in human history. Due to the persistence of a wise man within his community who helps to prove that this young man is the right person at the right time to become the eventual leader of a nation.
Even though David would grow into an impressive and influential man, the real value that he has to offer to God is his strength of character and heart. Like the quest of many modern films, this unassuming teen proves that humanity’s real value is not based on outward appearances, but on the quality of their inner spirit.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is in cinemas Boxing Day.