‘Why am I wearing this outfit in a jungle?‘
As a consequence of using hallowed film lists to find stuff to watch, I often miss out on big budget crowd pleasing family fare like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. I decided that Christmas would be the perfect time to correct this, and while the original Jumanji wasn’t a massive part of my childhood (although it was one of the first films I remember seeing in a cinema), the strong cast and warm reviews attracted me to Jake Kasdan’s reboot, and I’m so glad I took the plunge because this is a genuinely outstanding film…
The film opens with a roll call of high school archetypes thrown together in detention in a modern retelling of The Breakfast Club with nerdy Spencer (Alex Wolff), jock Anthony ‘Fridge’ Johnson (Ser’Darius Blain), introvert Martha (Morgan Turner) and popular girl Bethany (Madison Iseman) making up the numbers. Unlike The Breakfast Club, these high school archetypes end up trapped inside a deadly video game featuring murderous bikers, terrifying animals and… cake. The twist is that this is also a body swap movie. Spencer becomes Dr. Xander Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), a confident and ripped archaeologist with the ability to ‘smolder’, Fridge becomes Franklin Finbar (Kevin Hart), a diminutive zoologist, Martha is Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), a scantily clad karate expert, whilst most hilariously of all we have Jack Black as Professor Sheldon Oberon, an overweight scientist who provides many of the film’s best moments when pretending to be a teenage girl trapped in a man’s body. Whilst this is a trope that has been done to death, Black has so much fun with it that it barely matters. Indeed, much of this is ‘borrowed’ from other family capers such as Indiana Jones and the oeuvre of John Hughes, but Kasdan does a great job in sculpting all of this into something that does genuinely feel fresh and exciting. This is how you reboot a movie. Never does this feel like a bland re-tread of the source material.
Elsewhere, Rhys Darby has a ball as non-playable character and general game guide Nigel Billingsley and Bobby Cannavale does just fine as Professor Russell Van Pelt, the only human antagonist. This is perhaps the only misstep in the film as Cannavale is given little to do and his character never really approaches being anything other than two dimensional. This is a minor quibble, however. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has a great script (credited to Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers and Scott Rosenberg) with sharp dialogue and plenty of twists and turns as well as an outstanding cast at the top of their game. Sure, it’s probably 20 minutes too long, but you’re not really looking for perfection with this kind of movie. You’re looking for entertainment. And based on that metric alone this film is a raging success.