Four high school students have been given detention together. They are Spencer, the nerdy gamer, Fridge, the football jock, Martha, the academics-obsessed bookworm and Bethany, the social media-obsessed popular girl. Jumanji Welcome to the Jungle They are given the task of removing staples from mounds of magazines set to be recycled. In the process of not really working too hard on their work, they find an old video game console with a single cartridge: Jumanji.
But this is a movie about a bunch of teenagers stuck inside a video game, and Welcome to the Jungle attempts to spin that into a series of humorous shots at gaming conventions. The problem is that the movie has an awfully conventional idea of what game conventions are. The characters discover they each have three lives, which are displayed as small bars tattooed on their forearms. Smacking their chests reveals their strengths and weaknesses, Jumanji Welcome to the Jungle 2017 rendered in 8-bit text. One odd sequence setting up the movie’s villain (Bobby Cannavale, hamming it up as much as possible) is used as an opportunity for Spencer to explain what a cut-scene is, as if that’s some hyper-obscure piece of geek knowledge.
It’s almost as if the creators of the film think gaming is permanently stuck in the mid-‘90s, which turns the references into a series of out-of-touch dad jokes.Have you ever been sitting around with your friends, talking about movie ideas you’d like to see? During these conversations, did anybody say they wanted to see a mash-up of The Breakfast Club and Tron? Yeah, I’ve never heard anyone say that, either. Somebody wanted to see it, though, and they decided the best way would be to make the sequel/reboot Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.The foursome end up getting sucked into the world of the game.
They look like the avatars they chose to use in the game, all the exact opposite of who they are in the real world. Spencer is now Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson). Fridge is now Franklin Finbar (Kevin Hart). Martha is Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). Bethany is now Professor Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black). They now must use the particular skills of their avatars to work together and make their way through the levels of the game, without losing all three lives each has been allotted, in order to get back home.
There’s also the issue of Gillan’s character. In the real world, Martha is a smart teenager who gets in trouble for frankly speaking her mind. Inside the game, however, she comes across as utterly awkward, without the intelligence or agency she demonstrated outside it. Her arc is built around learning to accept that she’s attractive, which plays out literally, Jumanji Welcome to the Jungle Movie as Jack Black’s Bethany teaches her how to flirt and act seductive to distract some bodyguards.
At first, it’s amusing to watch Gillan play the scenes as physical comedy. And then it sinks in that this is a teenaged girl who’s being taught that her great untapped potential is whipping her hair around to turn men on. The movie does course-correct slightly — Martha ultimately becomes a formidable action foe — but even then, she’s good at “dance fighting,” which is as weird and out-of-left-field as it sounds. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a coming-of-age story, and other characters also learn to be comfortable with different aspects of themselves. But a 2017 film adopting the iconography of a character as historically problematic as Lara Croft should offer more than the surface-level shrug of LOL, that’s just how games were back then!
Welcome to the Jungle is a diversionary piece of entertainment, so eager to please that it’s able to get in and out without leaving either a positive or negative impression. It has eom appeal for fans of The Rock, and audiences who grew up on the original film and ‘90s gaming. But it’s hard to imagine this succeeding as a franchise relaunch, given that it’s already struggling to find relevant things to say about its subject. Culturally, we may be slowly transitioning from ‘80s nostalgia to the ‘90s, but despite its strong points, nothing in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle feels as if it’s seizing a cultural moment, or making a strong case for itself.
Perhaps it can serve as a sort of time capsule. Like the actual Jumanji game, the film may just hang around for 20 years, Jumanji Welcome to the Jungle Free at which point audiences can revisit it, take in what it does right, look at what it does wrong, and wonder why we were so obsessed with the past in the first place.Welcome to the Jungle’s first big gag is how the four misfits appear in the game. Each chooses a different gaming avatar before they’re sucked inside, which leads to some amusing fish-out-of-water hijinks right from the start. The nerdy Spencer has become the excessively charming Johnson. Football star Fridge is now an ineffectual Kevin Hart, whose main abilities are carrying a large backpack and commenting on how short he is. Martha has become a butt-kicking Lara Croft rip-off, played by Karen Gillan, and Bethany is a cartographer played by Jack Black. It’s fodder for plenty of easy jokes — director Jake Kasdan and the four credited writers never seem to tire of having Black’s Bethany marvel at her new genitalia — and while they’re mostly obvious gags, they do give Johnson many opportunities to show off his charisma, with Spencer boasting about it. The film is at its very best when it embraces this meta aspect of Johnson’s onscreen persona, and it’s actually impossible to imagine any other modern actor pulling off the role. Then, when Johnson downshifts into revealing just how authentically insecure Spencer is, he’s able to pull off some real vulnerability as well.
Despite being a movie no one was really clamoring to see, Jumanji Welcome to the Jungle Online Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a surprising delight. It’s a fast-paced and fun adventure that works off the charisma of its actors and the entertainment gained from watching them play both against type and exactly who we expect them to play.
Johnson and Hart sort of step back into the characters they played in Central Intelligence, but with minor differences here and there. Gillan is charmingly awkward when being Martha, especially in a moment that has to be the dorkiest kiss ever put on film, but allows her Nebula character from the Guardians movies to kick in when she needs to go full-on Ruby against the bad guys. Of course, it’s Black who utterly shines while playing a teenage girl in a grown man’s body.