Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Director – Jake Kasdan
Cast – Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale
Rating – 3/5
On paper, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle represents everything that’s wrong about the way Hollywood makes movies. It’s a reboot of a property most people would recall with fondness (even if they don’t quite remember why); it features a cast so likeable that they could easily be used for marketing propaganda; it’s written by five screenwriters (which can usually be taken as confirmation of a film’s poor quality) and directed by one Jake Kasdan (in hindsight, just the sort of inoffensive filmmaker who could pull this off).
And pull it off he has – if only just. In fairness, Jumanji: Welcome to Jungle had little going in its favour — one look at all the ominous signs listed above, not to mention the presence of a Jonas brother, could kill even the most legendary enthusiasm.
But this movie has a certain earnestness that’s very difficult to fake on screen. Having watched the sheer volume of films that I am required to — for professional and personal reasons — the intent behind a movie is almost too easy to spot. No one — not even Martin Scorsese — can convincingly sell something they themselves don’t fully believe in. They can do an excellent job of it, yes. Make no mistake, that’s why the Marvel movies are so good, even though they’re made by a committee; at least, it’s a committee that cares.
But this makes writing about films such as Jumanji 2 relatively difficult. Here’s a trade secret: Panning a film is the easiest thing to do in the world — easier than being one of those Instagram celebrities even. But coming up with interesting observations about a movie that positively aims for that ‘slightly-above-the-average’ zone, and succeeds in floating in it for two hours, is… tedious.
Do you call it out for being unimaginative, for pandering to a built-in fanbase, or do you appreciate it for not being terrible, of passing the lowest possible bar? Once again, we come back to one very important point: The intent.
A large part of why this movie… succeeds… is the cast. Thanks to Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan, whatever reservations there might have been for a film so questionably conceived, are swatted away and roundhouse kicked into the bramble.
In a flip of the original film’s central conceit, a group of teenagers is sucked into the world of a video game they find while serving detention together. The nerd, the jock, the popular girl and the outcast are transported to the lush jungles of Jumanji — the same jungles in which Robin Williams’ character from the original movie was trapped for decades — where they are transformed into the fantasy versions of themselves. They go from being high school clichés, to being, well, video game clichés.
The nerd inflates into The Rock, the jock shrinks into Kevin Hart, the vapid girl suddenly looks like Jack Black, and the outcast transforms into Karen Gillan (in a shamelessly gratuitous outfit). But it is with these stock characters and tropes that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle finds its footing, and makes astute observations about gaming culture.
Like Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow, Disney’s Wreck-it Ralph and Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Jumanji 2 is the sort of video game movie that isn’t based on one particular property, but has a certain affection for the world of gaming — it’s a subculture that has often been criticised for being exclusive and misogynistic and proudly obnoxious (rightfully so), but isn’t without its merits.
And at this point, it would be foolish to doubt The Rock’s powers. With a confident cock of the eyebrow and a flash of that million-dollar smile, he can elevate even the trashiest material. His charm has failed him exactly once, in Baywatch, the only film unpleasant enough to have defeated him.
As far as the fish-out-of-water humour goes — which is, in hindsight, unrelenting — there’s always fun to be had in watching The Rock play a nervous teenager, or Jack Black have a suspiciously good time channeling a selfie-obsessed girl. Kevin Hart, meanwhile, is Kevin Hart — for better or for worse.
The only slight niggle is Karen Gillan’s character, and more precisely, how she’s depicted in both her forms. But this is neither the time nor the place to start a serious debate about gender politics and the toxic side of fandom.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a fine holiday movie for undemanding families — the action is competently done, there’s an emotional story for those looking for one, and The Rock is in top form. It could be worse, but it couldn’t really have been better.
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The author tweets @RohanNaahar