Starring Dwayne Johnson Jack Black Kevin Hart Karen Gillan Nick Jonas. Directed by Jake Kasdan.
People around the world were sceptical when it was announced that Dwayne Johnson was starring in a reboot of the 90s Robin Williams’ film, Jumanji, based on the Chris Van Allsburg children’s book about a board game that brings the jungle into suburbia. What came, thanks to witty writing and a game cast, was a meta-gag about people’s changing tastes, video games and a warm-hearted tribute to the original while being an entirely new beast. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle ended up being a bigger hit than anyone expected, considering it was also going toe-to-toe with Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
This time around, the cast returns, along with Jake Kasdan directing, and Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg who penned the last one, writing with Kasdan. The film follows the core group of friends (Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Ser’Darius Blain, Morgan Turner) as they move on with their lives, only to venture back into the game to rescue Wolff who is trapped there again.
There was something to be enjoyed in the first film’s meta-gags about video games, overpowered characters with no weaknesses and the women being forced to wear essentially a swimsuit in lieu of more practical attire. There was also a chance for actors to play against a specific type – mainly with Dwayne Johnson playing a neurotic germaphobe nerd and Jack Black playing a queen bee.
This time around the game has changed; the jungle has given way to deserts and snow fortresses, new characters, new abilities and weaknesses have been introduced and the formula has changed.
Kasdan is great with the visual effects, and though it’s mainly a CGI-filled adventure, it manages to work well enough that the animals never become too annoying even though they’re obviously made by a computer. The usual route of the characterisation of the villains being thin can be forgiven for its video game setting.
That said, there is a sense that an old video game worked last time but the game being so clever, it would just become something more enticing – but this is a mandate of the popularity of the previous film, meaning we have to return to the formula that worked.
What Welcome to the Jungle got by on, and what this film gets by on, is the body swap comedy. This time, not only are the four friends in the game but so is Danny DeVito as Wolff’s grandfather and Danny Glover as DeVito’s friend. Though there’s little for poor Karen Gillan to do in her one-note role, there’s plenty for Johnson to do, channelling his inner DeVito and Kevin Hart manages to gain laughs playing against type as Glover’s slow talking counterpoint. There’s an element to Jack Black talking like an African American that isn’t very funny and just sounds like Jack Black.
As the film goes on, the law of diminishing returns happens, and for the most part, there’s less comedy to be gleamed from the game situation as the same jokes carry on continually (the old guys don’t get video games, Jack Black doesn’t like being Jack Black).
It’s not a complete dumpster fire and it doesn’t do anything to diminish popular childhood memories of the Robin Williams original. However, there’s nothing new here and despite a sequel baiting post-script, it might be time to take a bow and put the game away for good.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.