It’s been 23 years since Robin Williams and Bonnie Hunt first sat down and pulled out a mysterious board game called Jumanji. Beginning the game becomes a trap where the various denizens of the jungle-themed game would emerge, harass, and generally attack the players. However in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, the story starts 10 years after the events of the first film, and the board game is found washed up on a beach by Alex Vreeke (played by Mason Guccione). He takes it home and dusts it off and opens it up, but as with most modern teens, his only comment is “who plays board games?” He pops his headphones back onto his head and moves back to his console gaming.
The game it appears observes what he’s doing for a while, then tribal drums are heard once again and when he opens the game box, rather than the normal board, it’s empty save only for a small game console cartridge. He spins it up, and the intro screen is the same is the old center field on the board game. With a flash of light, the game comes awake, and Alex has vanished. Cut forward to the present day and we have four teen ne’er do wells. It’s a bit of Breakfast Club before they find themselves together and in detention, tasked with cleaning one of the high school’s old media labs. They come across the cartridge and console and decide to take it for a spin.
With all four selecting to start the game, there’s a Tron breakdown sequence and suddenly the four gangly teens find themselves as their character’s avatars within the game. The geeky lead (the sort who does other’s homework to get them to like them) is Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff), he suddenly becomes Dr. Smolder Bravestone (played by Dwayne Johnson) an action hero if ever there was one, complete with smoldering stare. The self-obsessed selfie-freak Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman) becomes a middle-aged (and male) cartographer. The jock who was Spencer’s one-time friend is “Fridge” Johnson, but on the other side becomes “Mouse” Finbar, a short zoologist (played by Kevin Hart). Lastly there’s the nerdy bookworm, Martha Kaply (played by Morgan Turner) – she becomes Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), a martial arts expert who also specialized in dance fighting.
The movie is no drama, in fact it’s the kind of movie that we could rather use at the moment. It’s four teens who find themselves caught in entirely alien bodies inside of a video game. Most of the gamer tropes are to be found, from multiple lives to NPCs who can only repeatedly spout their handful of pre-programmed responses. Various characters have abilities that the others can’t duplicate (only the cartographer can read the map, to everyone else it’s just a blank piece of paper).
There’s a certain amount of irony involved in the film, with this being the second film in a row in which Johnson has a quest which involves returning a green rock to it’s place of origin. And following in Williams’ footsteps, Johnson also just came off of being a lead in a Disney animated film (the first Jumanji was only a few years after Williams was the Genie in Aladdin, and Johnson was of course only recently Maui in Moana).
Go in to have some fun. There’s enough creative applications of gamer logic, even though by the end of the film there’s a pretty solid idea of how things are going to end up. Don’t take it too seriously and you’ll find yourself being swept back into the game of Jumanji for a second time. It’s a rare treat these days for a late follow-on to an 80s or 90s film to take things in a creatively new spin and to make it work out for the better.
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