As a child, when I first saw the cover for the original Jumanji film (1995) with its wild animals leaping right at you and Robin Williams on the cover, the concept of a board game coming to life instantly appealed to me. Afterwards, I imagined what a Jumanji follow-up film would be like: possibly more kids forced to suffer through the same game trials, in different twisted ways, or perhaps, something entirely different. Ten years later, we got a space version in Zathura (2005), but that wasn’t really a proper follow-up in the traditional sense. Now, after twenty two years, we finally have a proper sequel, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.
Welcome to The Jungle, takes a more video-game approach than the original Jumanji, and is, surprisingly, quite smart with it. It’s a fun, fast paced adventure, with some comedic, and very entertaining moments. At a runtime of about two hours, it’s a brisk watch, and never feels padded. Helping the film out a lot is its very good cast.
The cast features a number of teenagers who are transported to Jumanji and discover they’ve taken on the characters’ bodies they had selected from the game. As such, the main actors are playing adults while also pretending to be teenagers. This makes for some riotous performances. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson plays Dr. Smolder Bravestone, aka Spencer, the stereotypically courageous action hero. Johnson displays vulnerability in his character by constantly questioning his own leadership skills. Johnson is effortlessly charming playing the role of an adult who is "a child at heart”. Jack Black, as Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon, is an archaeologist/ paleontologist, and his role is genuinely hilarious since his character is inhabiting the body of a teenage girl named Bethany. Black plays the part up with lines such as “OMG”, and “I’m not touching that”. Kevin Hart plays Franklin, a Zoologist, aka Fridge, who's screaming and cracking up comedy may be tiresome, but, I’ll admit, he did get a few chuckles out of me. Karen Gillan, plays Rudy Roundhouse, aka Martha, a martial artist, dance fighter, and all around tough female. Gillian is clearly having fun with her role as she intentionally mocks her skimpy outfits, and, in a very amusing moment, takes out guards by misdirecting them with music. Joe Jonas is okay as Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough, the avatar of Alex Vreeke, a kid who has been trapped in the game for twenty years, and lives in a treehouse built by Alan Parish (a reference to Robin Williams’ character in the first film). Bobby Cannavale plays Russel Van Pelt (another reference to the original film, as the gamehunter was also named Van Pelt), is the villain of the film, and Rhys Darby (whose voice I instantly recognized), as Nigel Billingsley, the NPC (non-player character) tour guide. There is a sense of dread that the characters might not make it out alive since they are limited by game lives, but there isn’t a really “scary” feel to this sequel like in the first Jumanji, which had a much darker tone to it.
Jumanji: Welcome to The Jungle is a fun, adventure film, and doesn’t aspire to be anything else. The special effects are, for the most part, seamless, give or take a few obvious green screen shots, and some CGI (computer generated imagery) animals. Henry Jackman’s musical score is adventurous and fun. Is it one of the year's best films? No, but it’s packed with laughs and lots of good characters and moments. Right now, I can see why audiences are falling for it. It’s rated PG-13 and appeals highly to families. If you enjoyed the first Jumanji, or just want to have a good time, I recommend it.
Playing now in Lebanon at Entertainment Cinemas, Monday - Friday at 3:30 and 6:30 PM, and Saturday and Sunday at 12:20, 3:45, 6:40, and 9:05 PM.