Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – 2017

Director Jake Kasdan
Screenplay Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale, Colin Hanks, Morgan Turner, Alex Wolff, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman

The original Jumanji was a sign of a saturation point for Robin Williams. It was a hit in a string of flops following the his biggest successes at the time, Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire. The movie itself was a hit, and he was still on his way to winning an Oscar two years later. For me, though the genie was definitely having a hard time finding his way back into the bottle.

As things go, he isn’t the problem with the original film. The main challenge for me is the special effects and the direction. It isn’t the worst I had seen, but the animals were so off-putting after the spectacle of Jurassic Park, it took me completely out of the film. Williams without a sense of humor didn’t reel me back in, either.

This time around, we have Dwayne Johnson. He too, should be reaching the point where we’d be tired of his average films. He seems to have a habit of picking the films that no one with his track record should be picking. The problem is, he seems only to be gaining in charisma and actual acting skill.

I didn’t want to watch this film. It looked more like Faster than Fast Five. Outside of Gillian, none of the rest of the cast piqued my interest. Black hasn’t been interesting for a while. Kevin Hart is more overexposed than Johnson, but not quite half as interesting. Word of mouth pushed me to the point where I decided to give it a chance.

The result…it’s average, bordering on good. The effects are good this time, all the animals are good except for the cats in the last act. The performances are definitely on the plus side.

The story is the same as the first, only this time the game finds its way to a video game environment. The change relegates the characters into video game tropes that are made more interesting in the way they play against type. The wimp turns into the stud (Johnson), the babe turns into the overweight multi-faceted scientist (Black), and the stud football player becomes the zoologist and weapons specialist. Gillian’s Ruby Roundhouse is a dance fighter who derives from the intellectual who is not into physical activity.

The discovery of each of the characters and their roles and abilities is interesting, if predictable. When Black’s “Shelly” discovers the horrors and the glories of her new body, its nice to see someone of his ability play with gender roles in an interesting and non-political manner. Hart’s challenge is in moving from stud to the one carrying the weapons for the new stud. He manages to exhibit the correct amount of panache while being horrified with his newfound predicament.

Johnson and Gillian are entertaining. Their performances retain enough of their counterparts to keep the 16 year age difference from being creepy. Johnson spends enough of his time working the character, he’s less of a stud than usual. It works as a counter to Gillian’s starburst of energy which gives further evidence that her Marvel role of Nebula is no fluke.

Cannavale is wasted in the role of the faceless bad guy. His role is to lose, and literally anyone could do that. They didn’t need someone who could work magic like he did in Win Win.

The team coalesces and uses their strengths with a minimum of clichés and virtually no hugging and learning. The result is a better version of The Breakfast Club and definitely an improvement over the original. The film is not the juggernaut that its sales indicated when it arrived in theaters as a surprising alternative to the controversial reaction to The Last Jedi.

Even if I never watch it again, this wasn’t a waste of my time. It’s not enough to make me see the next one in theaters, but it’s definitely not the overwrought mess we saw the first time.

(*** out of *****)

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