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‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ (review by Leyla Mikkelsen)

Produced by Matt Tolmach, William Teitler
Screenplay by Jake Kasdan, Chris McKenna,
Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner

Story by Chris McKenna
Based on Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
Directed by Jake Kasdan
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black,Kevin Hart,
Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale

 

As Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson continues his vendetta against iconic elements of 90’s pop culture, no property appears to be safe.

Having already tormented cinemagoers with the painful Baywatch film earlier this year, it is therefore understandable that many have expressed their concerns about his involvement with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

Being not quite a sequel and not quite a reboot either, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle seeks to show us the inside of the Jumanji board game, which has now become a video game, a change that only spurred further outrage from fans of the 1995 original.

It thankfully turns out that there is a reason for this change other than mere marketing, and the action-filled fun is soon under way as the four teenagers land in Jumanji in the form of their in-game avatars. Kevin Hart more or less plays himself, Karen Gillan brings a believable physicality to her martial arts expert avatar, and The Rock portrays the lead character of the geeky Spencer. As per usual, The Rock oozes charisma and clearly has fun with playing an insecure teen, as this contrast does indeed make for several amusing moments. The real standout among the main cast, however, is Jack Black; while he is definitely having a whale of a time portraying the self-obsessed Instagram addict Bethany, he surprisingly does not overdo it in the role of the shrill teenage girl, instead keeping his performance unexpectedly balanced, and thereby ensuring that Bethany not only feels relatable, but also has a rather satisfying character arc.

With the teenagers in the real world being matched with avatars in Jumanji that are polar opposites to their real-life selves, lessons obviously need to learned in order to make the teens grow from the outlandish experiences of the game. While some clichés are to be expected in this type of narrative, a surprsingly enjoyable dynamic is achieved for the most part, albeit Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle hardly manages to be particularly deep or groundbreaking. As such, it works well in terms of the narrative of the group dynamic of the quartet of teens, their being stuck in avatars being a humorous paraphrasing of the youthful dilemmas of coming of age, accepting yourself and growing as a person.

When the film is good, it manages to capture the over-the-top fun associated with family blockbusters of the 90’s, even managing to occasionally convey the slightly darker and more perilous adventures associated with the animated series. This is a refreshing approach, however, it is not utilized near enough to make the film as uniquely intense as it had the potential to be. This is particularly evident from the antagonist, who makes for a cartoonish menace, however, the sense of danger he should embody never truly lingers, thus making him little more than an unpleasant set piece.

The idea of emulating certain computer game elements such as cut scenes and respawn points is delightful and fun, largely avoiding going overboard in terms of the meta aspect of such self-aware gimmicks. As such, the wittiness of this element is surprisingly restrained, once again lending a certain charm to the proceedings. As a result, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is therefore a rather entertaining flick for when you just want to switch off your brain and chomp down some popcorn.

Many had voiced their negative opinion about even the mere idea of a new Jumanji film, demonizing the new cinematic take on the diabolical game before having had a chance to see it. While the combined star power of the cast is sufficient enough to assure that plenty of people will be lured into seeing the film, it also serves as a reminder that new takes on older properties can be rather entertaining in their own right. Thus, if you are able to take off the rose-tinted goggles that many seem to be wearing when reminiscing about the frankly mediocre 1995 adventure with the late, great Robin Williams, the latest take on the world of Jumanji is simply enjoyable, disposable fun, which will undoubtedly make a new generation of cinema-goers anxious at the sound of jungle drums.

Verdict: 6 out of 10.

 

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