Movie Review: “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” [Spoiler-Free]


I’m always wary when a beloved childhood movie is remade or rebooted, because let’s face it: the Hollywood of today doesn’t have the greatest track record when messing around with classics from the 80’s and 90’s. In particular I’ve personally found that they tend to rely far too much on current special effects technology and making controversial changes to seem progressive (*cough*femaleGhostbusters*cough*) and fail to focus on important things like, you know…the script.

But that’s just my opinion. Take it or leave it.

However, I had a small spark of hope when I first saw the trailers for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, because the combination of actors they chose felt like a winning possibility to me. So I quietly crossed my fingers behind my back and waited for the opportunity to judge with as little bias as I could manage, having grown up with the original.

And I’m happy to report that I personally thought the result was thoroughly enjoyable.

The movie opens in the 90’s, with a teenage boy finding the Jumanji board game and commenting on the fact that no one plays board games anymore before he turns to his video games. Whatever magic possesses the game apparently hears him and agrees, because it evolves in order to stay relevant and lure in new victims.

Fast forward back to the present day, and we meet our four teenage heroes. Spencer is a video game-playing nerd with asthma and allergies, who never takes any risks and is basically terrified of life. Fridge is the 6-foot-tall, muscular football player who is flunking one of his classes and bullies Spencer into writing his reports for him so he can stay on the team. Martha is an intellectual who has no use for physical activity and keeps to herself because she sees herself as an unlikable loser. And Bethany is our stereotypical blond prom queen, totally absorbed in her own world and too pretty for her own good. The four wind up in detention together and are set a task in an old, unused room of the school, in which they discover a self-enclosed video game called “Jumanji”. They decide to play, each choosing a different character, without really thinking too much about the descriptions of said characters. Unlike the original Jumanji film, in which the contents of the board game escape out into the real world, our heroes in Welcome to the Jungle find themselves pulled into the game, where they take over the bodies of the avatars they’d chosen. Terrified Spencer becomes a hulking hunk hero. Mousy Martha becomes a sexy man-killer. Athletic Fridge becomes a short, squat zoologist. And beautiful Bethany becomes a fat, middle-aged male cartologist. Together the four must play and defeat the game in order to escape and go home.

I’ll admit that, at first, I thought the idea of Jumanji being a video game instead of a board game was nothing more than a sad statement on the fact that, as a society, we’re all glued to our screens and don’t take part in proximity group activities anymore. Even as a video gamer myself I can fully accept this as a fact of present times, and maybe it seemed a little on the nose within the movie format at first. But I’m happy to say that it actually did work within the context of the film. It was interesting seeing the characters trapped in the game, trying to get out, rather than the original concept of attempting to get the game back in. Add to that the fact that the characters becoming completely different people who were very contrary to their real-life selves was the integral part of the film (morals and lessons and all that), and you’ve got a recipe for fun and hysterics abound.

The cast chosen to play the video-game versions of the teens were amazing. The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, as Spencer, Kevin Hart as Fridge, Jack Black as Bethany, and Karen Gillan as Martha were all hysterical and spot on with their portrayals of the teenagers they were supposed to be transformed from. Giant, muscular Johnson acting like a terrified little mouse, tiny Hart as a big-headed jock, and pudgy Black as a valley-girl-esque brat were all spot on and had me giggling like a damn fool on numerous occasions. Gillan was less laugh-out-loud funny simply because her character was the least cartoony teenage stereotype of the four, but she still had several excellent moments, and overall I thought her performance was spot-on.

I do have a few minor complaints, one of which is that in several scenes, when one of the characters (usually Spencer) was explaining an aspect of the video game world, it seemed over-explained, almost as if the script-writers assumed that the people watching the movie would all be non-gamers who had no idea what was going on. Contrary to that, I’d be willing to bet that the overwhelming majority of movie-goers who watch this film will have played at least enough video games to get the concepts without being pandered to, so it seemed too much to me. For example, when the characters start seeing images from the backstory of the game and act confused, Spencer explains that he thinks this is a cut-scene. For the average viewer, chances are that this would have been plenty enough information to get the joke across, but the script sledgehammers the point into the ground by having Spencer continue on with an explanation about how cut-scenes are “little movies” that show you what’s happening in another part of the story and that “lots of games have them”. The entire line really gives of a vibe that says “we think you’re probably too dumb to understand this unless we explain it in the most basic of layman’s terms”.

Another small complaint is that, while the subplot of the film is obviously that these four very different teenagers have to get past their differences and learn how to work together, I felt that the two female characters became best buds way too fast. It was cute to see the mousy nerd and the conceited beauty-queen bond and learn from each other; I just felt that it happened so quickly that there was barely any antagonism between them at all, whereas the two male characters spent a good half the movie arguing and wanting to kill each other. It just seemed a little uneven to me in that manner, and I would have liked to see a little more of the girls acting bitchy toward one another before realizing they actually rather like each other.

One final complaint is that, considering the main plot was that these characters were trapped in a video game, there wasn’t actually a whole lot of “video game level” style of scenes. There were a few cute things to remind you that that’s where they were, like the random NPC’s repeating lines over and over, or the little “lives” bars on the main characters’ arms, but when it came to actually playing the game, a large portion of it seemed to be simply walking from place to place, or performing fairly quick tasks. It’s a bit difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t seen the movie, but if you’re a gamer yourself you might understand if I explain this way: if the Jumanji game were an actual video game in real life, it could be beaten in less than an hour. Since the full movie is only about two hours long, I suppose they couldn’t really cram that much video game-esque challenge into it; it’s just that as a gamer myself, this point seemed a little glaring to me personally.

Those three complaints, however, are minor when considering the film as a whole. All in all I thought that it was a very fun movie, with lots of excellent humor, a few absolutely unexpected moments (one in particular had my daughter giggling and yelling, “It made us ALL jump!” for a full five minutes), and plenty of heart, all wrapped around wonderful performances from the cast, which, by the way, was joined by Nick Jonas about halfway through. It was (mostly) well-written, well-edited, and had that feel-good family-movie vibe while also having enough more mature humor in it to keep the adults happy.

One small warning on that topic before I conclude! If you have young children who are very inquisitive, you might have a conversation on your hands by the middle of this movie, as a few humorous moments with the transformed-into-a-man Bethany could leave little ones asking, “Wait, what? What is she talking about?” Yeah, you know what I’m getting at.

So, in conclusion, I am happy to say that I genuinely enjoyed Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. It did not, as far as I’m concerned, stomp on the classic from my childhood in any way, and instead gave it a little bit of a fun reboot for the current generation that can be a good time for the whole family. Even if you’re wary of remakes and reboots like I am, I truly suggest you give this one a try, especially if you’re in the mood to laugh.

Have you seen Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle? Let me know what you thought of it in the comment section below!