Movie Review: 'Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle'
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” bears very little resemblance to its 1995 predecessor. That film was about a jungle-themed board game that invaded our world. This movie is about a jungle-themed video game that sucks players into its world. It’s probably better that this film goes in a different direction. All the inevitable jokes about the displaced animals invading suburbia and becoming Internet sensations would get old real quick.
After a teenager in the 90’s is whisked into the game Alan Parrish-style, we flash forward to present day and meet our new cast of teenagers. Bethany (Madison Iseman) spends all her time on her phone and gets detention for Facetiming during a quiz. Martha (Morgan Turner) is a loner who gets detention for refusing to participate in team sports in gym. Spencer (Alex Wolff) is a nerd who gets detention for writing a term paper for his jock acquaintance Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), who, you guessed it, also gets detention. The kids are forced to do chores together, so naturally the first thing they do is start playing the “Jumanji” video game. They haphazardly choose their characters and then get magically transported into the game, where adventure awaits.
The scrawny Spencer suddenly finds himself in the body of the brawny Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson). The enormous Fridge is now stunted sidekick Mouse (Kevin Hart). Unflashy Martha is now the flash-tastic Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan, the only adult actor who seems like they communicated with their teenage counterpart about their character’s mannerisms). And the female Bethany is now the very male Shelly Oberon (Jack Black). Eventually they meet up with missing-teenager-turned-game-mainstay Seaplane McDonough (Nick Jonas). If the group ever wants to get back to the real world, they have to finish the game without getting killed. That is, if they don’t kill each other first, because they’re still teenagers and they have drama. Seriously, two of them do kill each other, but they all have three lives, so the murders don’t take.
The action is what you’d expect from a jungle adventure movie. The group has to contend with hippos, elephants, a cobra, jaguars, a surprisingly dangerous squirrel, and more snakes. I’m a big-time ophidiophobe, so during the snake scenes I was glad that this movie’s special effects were all unconvincing CGI. For the non-snake scenes, I wasn’t so glad. There’s also a villain played by Bobby Cannavale, who’s so bland that when Cannavale’s name appeared in the end credits, I wondered where he had been in the movie. Process of elimination should have told me he was the villain, but I thought he was incapable of being that boring.
The emphasis is actually much more on humor than action, and the movie really hopes you like adult stars acting like teenagers whose personalities don’t match their bodies. Johnson is insecure, Hart acts tough even though he doesn’t have the body to back it up, Gillan doesn’t know how to flirt, Black is a female in a male’s body, those kinds of gags. Black is especially painful because he doesn’t sound like a teenage girl, he sounds like what a hack male writer from 2015 thinks a teenage girl sounds like. Also, the movie doesn’t seem to know whether it wants a PG or PG-13 rating (it’s PG-13), so the humor is mostly tame save for a few lowbrow jokes that are supposed to be edgy. It’s the worst of both worlds.
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” isn’t an offensively bad movie, just an annoying one. It’s pretty easy to tell what beats the story is going to hit, and we wait as the movie slogs through each one. Plus the whole “three lives” bit essentially means that the climax won’t come until each character has lost two. Things are kept lively, but it’s not an interesting liveliness. After two hours, I was more than ready to say goodbye to the jungle.
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is rated PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content, and some language. Its running time is 119 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.