Movie Review - Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Alex Wolff (My Friend Dahmer and Patriots Day) plays Spencer Gilpin, a skinny and awkward, high school student who starts to work an old video game that magically pulls him into it. It's similar to Tron (1982) or Tron: Legacy (2010). The difference is that this movie doesn't indicate visually that Spencer or any of the other students pulled into the game are actually in a video game. Yes, video-game technology has progressed tremendously since the 1990's where this movie starts, but nothing that totally eliminates the uncanny valley. This video game here pulls Spencer into a world that has no uncanny valley, yet the video-game console looks like an old 16-bit console. Once Spencer is pulled into it, he becomes Smolder Bravestone, played by Dwayne Johnson.
This film is a sequel to the 1995 film Jumanji, starring Robin Williams. The 1995 film didn't have a magical, video game. It had a magical, board game. For this film, that board game is transformed into a video game, presumably to appeal to young people today. Co-written by Jake Kasdan and Chris McKenna (American Dad and Community), as well as several others, the film possibly reaches back a little too far. Instead of a third-generation, game console, it should have been a fifth or sixth-generation console like a Sony PlayStation or something similar.
There is a little bit of a disconnect between this film and the previous. In the 1995 film, Williams' character of Alan Parrish gets pulled into the game, as just a random consequence. The real purpose of the game was to bring jungle experiences out into the real world, or at least the quiet, suburban world of Brantford, New Hampshire. The board game was a bridge between the players and the jungle. The video game here is also a bridge, but whereas being pulled into the jungle was a consequence before, it seems to be the game's sole purpose now.
Given that the basis here is a video game, it makes sense that the sole purpose has changed. Otherwise, this movie might have become something like Pixels (2015), although the filmmakers could have come up with something less akin to Michael Bay. It could have produced something akin to a live-action Wreck-It Ralph (2012) and what it would be like to interact with living video-game characters.
Actually, this movie might be more akin to James Cameron's Avatar (2009). In that blockbuster, people get pulled into a jungle experience and inhabit other people's bodies, just like in this movie. Cameron's jungle was a unique planet where aliens frolicked. Kasdan's jungle is just a jungle, one that is reminiscent of the Hawaiian environment where the film was made. With the exception of a bazaar that invokes more Persian culture, Kasdan's jungle isn't particularly interesting. There's an Indiana Jones vibe to it briefly but not much more than that.
This film also tries to do something with the video-game idea of having multiple lives. It's only clever about that at the end. Other than that, the movie plays with teenage stereotypes. Johnson doesn't really nail the stereotype given to him. Hart is just Kevin Hart, not really giving a performance, just doing his usual standup shtick.
Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Who) co-stars as Ruby Roundhouse, the video-game avatar for Martha Kaply, a shy bookworm who hates athletics. Gillan is okay in the role as a girl who has to learn to be less judgemental and embrace her inner bad-ass.
Jack Black (Kung Fu Panda and The School of Rock) also co-stars as Sheldon Oberon, the video-game avatar for Bethany Walker, a vapid and vain cheerleader who only cares about her cell phone and social media than she does about people. Black's performance is the standout here. One can argue that he's riffing on his character in Bernie (2011). He's a middle-age man who is playing a very effeminate and sassy, teenage girl. It's a tightrope he walks between convincing and mocking caricature.
Rated PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content and some language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 59 mins.