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JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE is a Completely Different Beast (Review)

JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE is a Completely Different Beast (Review)

There are a lot of reasons a long-after-the-fact sequel of Jumanji shouldn’t work, from the first one being 20 years old and not really demanding the same name recognition as before, to the fact that a change in tone might alienate everyone. And yet, somehow, despite everything, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is mostly a lot of fun. It works for what it is precisely because it doesn’t try to do the same exact thing as the Robin Williams movie, and it takes its new central premise down all the avenues you expect it might, while never stretching it too thin.

You’ve no doubt seen a trailer and gathered the basic plot: four high schoolers end up in detention for different reasons, find an old video game machine with a cartridge called Jumanji, hook it up, and get sucked into the game. Each of them has picked an avatar based on name alone and each ends up being the opposite of what they are in real life. Geeky, afraid of everything Spencer (Alex Wolff) becomes beefy adventurer Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson); bookwormy, unsure of herself Martha (Morgan Turner) becomes sexy ass-kicker Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan); popular jock Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) becomes diminutive weapon-carrier Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart); and conceited hot girl Bethany (Madison Iseman) becomes overweight, middle-aged male scientist Dr. Shelly Oberon (Jack Black). Together they have to beat the game using their particular in-game skills while avoiding evil mercenaries and dangerous jungle animals.

It’s amazing to me how much mileage director Jake Kasdan and team of writers get out of this premise. A body-swap comedy in the guise of an action-adventure movie is sort of genius—especially when you have a cast of talented comedic actors playing high-schoolers suddenly thrust into new bodies. They’re all quite funny, but the two standouts have to be Black doing a spot-on portrayal of a teenage girl and Gillan being awkward and goofy while looking like a red-haired Lara Croft. After a while, in the case of all of them, you forget that they’re big movie stars and we just see the characters inside, which is quite commendable.

The actual plot of the movie, and following the game’s structure from level to level, is fairly anemic and the villain (played by Bobby Cannavale) might just as well have been a lion with a twisty moustache for as much character development as he has. For the most part, though, the actual mechanics of the game are secondary to how the characters react to them. They each have three “lives” within the game and sometimes their deaths are incredibly funny; several times they run in to NPCs who are only programmed to say certain things and so there’s humor to be mined there. And if you thought you WOULDN’T get all the jokes possible about a teen girl figuring out the way men pee, you are incorrect.

I would say, for as enjoyable as most of the movie is, it doesn’t have the same level of escalating dread as the 1995 Jumanji did. With each roll of the dice, a new problem arose for our characters to deal with immediately, and that would remain a condition for the rest of the movie. Here there’s no real sense of turns or escalation, and with a couple of exceptions, the levels don’t amount to too much.

Those quibbles aside, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is the perfect, light holiday family movie. You eat some popcorn, have some laughs, and go back to your own jungle.

3 out of 5 Burritos

Images: Sony

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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