Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (aka Jumanji 2) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Director Jake Kasdan has certainly won first place in the competition of how to make a competent and entertaining return to the world of Jumanji. He doesn’t merely remake the adventure of a cursed game that terrorizes kids but gives it a fresh update and jolt of chemistry. The result is a Jumanji movie that more than dwarves the lukewarm movie of the 1990s.
The initial concept could’ve been a disaster of an idea. Since board games don’t seem as in with the younger generation, the Jumanji board game has to get with the times if it wants to keep scaring people with its dangerous game of rhinos, quicksand, and jungle hunters. Through its own magical logic, the game goes from board to console, transforming itself into a Playstation-era video game. It’s far more tantalizing for four teenagers to pick and play so they can unwittingly be sucked into the game’s world.
But here is where the film gets interesting. The four teenagers trapped in the jungle adventure are thrown out of their cliche stereotypes. The nerdy gamer Spender (Alex Wolff) finds himself inside the game as the buff adventurer Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson). The homework-avoiding jock Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain) is turned into the small and weak zoologist Mouse (Kevin Hart). The selfish teen girl Bethany (Madison Iseman) finds herself in the role of the tubby archaeologist Shelly (Jack Black). And the shy Martha (Morgan Turner) becomes the kick-butt commando Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). They’re presented in a remarkable fish-out-of-water video game scenario that becomes a wealth of comedic scenes, far past the simpler silliness of Bethany noticing she now has a penis, though the film isn’t above making that joke.
It’s also a unique role for Dwayne Johnson, an actor accustomed to playing charming and quippy heroes, now playing a character astounded by his muscles and bald head. His acting is remarkable for scenes where he struggles to be intimidating, replying to someone asking if he’ll hit them with a quietly timid “Maybe?” Kevin Hart is pretty much in his element as loud and peeved, bitterly stating he hates this game when he discovers his weakness trait is cake. Karen Gillan is always fun to watch as an action hero, but is especially alluring to watch with her bizarre fighting method known as dance fighting. Jack Black’s portrayal of a teenage girl in his voice and mannerism is by far the most hilarious performance of the film and a testament to how Black has more in him than his Tenacious D ramblings.
Also clever is the staging of this video game world, where the players have multiple lives and power-ups, in addition to interacting with NPCs. I’ve never seen a film taking place inside a video game be so smart with its details, from repeated dialogue trees to cinematic backstories that breakup the gameplay. The assembly is more akin to being constructed with a love for video games rather than someone who picked up a PC Gamer and picked up a few details to spew into a screenplay. It’s this competency that makes the chemistry of the teens feel more real than just a blizzard of buzzwords plucked from the social media microcosm.
I think what ultimately makes Welcome to the Jungle such a bigger pleasure than the last Jumanji is that it’s embraced its absurdity. It never tries too hard to be frightening and scary, finding dark humor whenever someone is eaten by an animal or explodes from eating cake. It also has a lot of fun with what’s present, recognizing that Dwayne Johnson has a certain smoulder that is so bold it stops the action. Sure, the action itself is flashy and the plot a standard treasure hunting affair, complete with a greedy villain, but I’m thankful there was more care put into the characters than the over-the-top theatrics. I knew Dwayne had the skills to punch people so hard they fly into the air, but that’s all the more hilarious when hearing him do so by reciting video game fighting moves.