Director: Jake Kasdan Runtime: 119 mins Starring: Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnston, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas
Don’t adjust your screens, that is not a typo. Jumanji: Welcome to The Jungle is a disappointment. But it’s not for the reasons you might expect. We’re used to sequels coming years after their originals these days, and in this respect the film actually has a lot going for it. In a similar vein to Jurassic World’s comment that ‘Kids aren’t impressed by dinosaurs anymore’, young Colin Hanks asks ‘Who even plays boardgames anymore?’ as a teen in 1996. Jumanji decides to update itself, becoming a wooden video game console overnight and next thing we know Hanks’ disappearance is still a local legend 20 years on.
How does it hold up against the original?
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle veers away from the kid-friendliness of the original, instead delivering a teen movie with familiar (tired) character types; The Nerd, The Footballer, The Spoilt Brat and the Girl who just needs to ditch the glasses and don a slick of lip gloss. This departure adds little and all the charm follows Robin Williams and Colin Hanks’ teen counterparts into the ether.
The sexy adult avatar angle should have lent itself well to shaking up these character stereotypes and say SOMETHING about either the 90s or contemporary teenage life or even the differences between the 2 (beyond Yasss Queen versus 90s slang). Instead, this film reads like yet another thinkpiece about cushy millennials and their confusing Instagram worship.
Jumanji was family-fun for sure and at times a little goofy, but it didn’t talk down to children and the stakes and tension made it a classic. Even the kids in my screening didn’t seem satisfied with the performances in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.
Be yourself, unless you’re a girl
The main message of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is at times ‘Be yourself’, but that’s undercut by pretty much every second Jack Black spends onscreen.
What exactly is the takeaway supposed to be from 2 hours of his hammy portrayal of a boy-crazed teenage girl teaching a less confident teen to ‘sparkle’? What message does that give? It’s shrugged off as a joke at the expense of video game culture that Karen Gillan is wearing half a shirt and short shorts in the jungle but nothing that happens over the course of the film seems to condemn it and in fact, her arc seems to be that she has to not only accept objectification but also learn to use it as a tool in order to be useful and happy.
Jack Black’s character has to set aside her libido and realise she isn’t the centre of the universe. It’s not a good look when the original in a franchise is over 10 years old and more progressive than the latest release.
The Rock and Kevin Hart’s talents haven’t made it into this Jungle. It’s all short jokes and satisfied flexing and it’s a damn shame. Their character arc is slightly better than the girls’ though and they make peace with the fact that they have grown apart from their childhood friendship.
There was real potential here, utterly squandered. The video game framing narrative was under-utilised and takes away all the suspense the original had which was it’s most compelling quality. We feared the drums because they symbolised Robin Williams stolen-youth and there were tangible physical threats (the lion, the plants, the hornets even). By its very nature, a video game undermines any sense of lasting danger but beyond that, in establishing a very clear objective right from the get-go, there’s no tension to justify the 2 Hour runtime for new Jumanji outing. Ultimately, The film seems confused about what it wants to be and who it’s audience is: is it Jumanji for teens? Is it a video game? Is it The Breakfast Club? Is it a coming-of-age for kids? The reason video games get away with having simplistic plots and predictable beats is that you are sutured in because it feels like there are consequences for you personally even if it’s just that you have to sit through a ‘You Died’ load screen. In setting Jumanji: Welcome to The Jungle in a video game world with a geek guy’s explanations patching over any bumps along the ride towards a fully defined end-point, the film wastes everything it should have had going for it. In trying to be so many things to so many people, it fails to do anything well. (2 / 5)