Directed by Jake Kasdan | Written by Kasdan, Jeff Pinker, and Scott Rosenberg, based on a book by Chris Van Allsburg | 123 min | Netflix
Though I’m surprised to find I never wrote it up on this blog, I did see 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle—I think on an airplane. It’s a good airplane movie—a fun, family-friendly picture. I never saw the Robin Williams original from 1995—by then I wasn’t bothering with a lot of movies for young audiences. I was surprised at the reboot. The four key cast—Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, and Jack Black—were all so good, and the film so playful with its video-game conceits.
The basics of the 2017 picture go something like this: Jumanji is an old-school adventure video-game (back in 1995 it was a board game) that mystically sucks four teens (played by Morgan Turner, Alex Wolff, Ser’Darius Blain, and Madison Iseman) into its tropical environment, with the four leads as their avatars. It’s a wide-ranging action comedy that allows the teens to overcome their self-conscious fears and become their best selves, more or less.
The anxious Spencer becomes Johnson’s Dr. Smolder Bravestone, while the jock, Fridge, becomes Kevin Hart’s diminutive zoologist, Frank ‘Mouse’ Finbar. Karen Gillan is terrific as Ruby Roundhouse, controlled by a nerd, while Jack Black’s Professor Shelley Oberon, the map expert, is inhabited by the popular girl, Bethany. As video-game avatars, the actors get to play characters very different from their types, and they have a blast.
I wouldn’t call the sequel, the model of machine-tooled entertainment, anything but a so-so continuation of what worked in the previous picture, but a few new faces help to hold the interest, starting with Spencer’s grandfather, Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his estranged business partner, Milo (Danny Glover). Eddie becomes Bravestone, and Milo becomes Finbar—cue a frothy batch of ageist humour that’s more than a little tiresome, but the performers manage to be winning anyway. Johnson and Gillan were the real stars of the first film, but Hart shines in the sequel, capably adopting Glover’s deliberate speech. Then, later in the movie, Awkwafina appears, and gets to play avatar to two different characters.
As far as action set-pieces go, the CGI flock of aggressive ostriches and troop of mandrills provide some fun, and Game of Thrones‘ Rory McCann makes a decent heavy, but none of this is likely to stay in your memory for long. Don’t be surprised if in 2022 or ’23 a third one appears. With any luck, Guns ‘n’ Roses won’t be featured—few songs are more deserving of a soundtrack moratorium than “Welcome To The Jungle.”