The Hollywood remake and reboot machine drudges on and on: giving audiences remakes of properties that no one wanted to revisit. Some of 2016s worst offenders were Chips, Baywatch, and Flatliners. The reason I mention these movies is because I, like most fans and critics, thought that a new Jumanji movie would fall into the category that these other films share. Jumanji, for my generation, is a pivotal piece of pop culture. The film, which was one of Robin William’s best, was a wacky, anarchic, gem of utter strangeness. Full of genuine scare, and special effects that haven’t aged to badly, there wasn’t any real need for another movie like Jumanji.
Except director Jake Kasdan hasn’t just made Jumanji again. With the help of a truly brilliant cast, Kasdan has found a new spin on old material that pays subtle homage to the original, but isn’t just a carbon copy.
The premise this time is quite different. Jumanji, ten sentient board game with an entire world inside of it, turns out to be a savvy marketer. When a gang of disparate teens, which resemble an updated Breakfast Club, are given detention, they stumble upon the game which has morphed itself into and Atari video game cartridge. This game is a genius, as no one but the really hip play board games anymore. It’s here that the kids are sucked into the game as avatars played by notable Hollywood actors.
Nerdy Spencer Gilpin turns into Dwayne Johnson, the social media-obsessed Bethany Walker turns into Jack Black, Jock Anthony “Fridge” Johnson turns into Kevin Hart, and the awkward Martha Kaply turns into Karen Gillan. While the set-up with the teenage characters is necessary, it’s when we enter the game that the movie comes to life.
This is because Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has solved the problem of video game movies. Like Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Welcome to the Jungle takes the tropes of video games: the escapism, the logic-based traps, the casual sexist portrayals of women, and critiques and subverts them in a way that Scott Pilgrim didn’t care to do. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is deeply indebted to action adventure games like Uncharted and Tomb Raider, and while the levels aren’t as clever, or detailed as those games, the effect still works.
The main comedy comes from these movie stars acting like they don’t recognise their own bodies. Dwayne Johnson is predictably at his best, as he completely subverts his more Furious roles in favour of being a deeply neurotic teenager. Jack Black and Karen Gillan are the best pairing as they find common ground pretty quickly. Gillan, who has been threatening the A-list ever since she shaved her head for Guardians of the Galaxy, gets many of the movies best gags. Her brutally awkward attempts to flirt will have you cringe-laughing enough to cause some muscle-strain.
It’s not all fun and games though as Kevin Hart does very little to distinguish this role from his filmography of annoying dudes, Bobby Cannavalie’s villain is about as important as a skipped cut scene, and as well as Welcome to the Jungle does, it can’t recapture the sheer magic of the original. In fairness, it never tried, which was the right decision. Overall Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a blast, and it would take a true cynic not to be caught up with this well-paced, and fun adventure. Welcome to the Jungle has shown Hollywood how reboots should be done by showing that a story is always worth revisiting if you have a new spin on it.