REVIEW: “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”

Jonathan Montague, Contributing Writer

For decades, fans have pined for a truly great film based on a beloved video game. Unlike books and television shows, movies based on games tend to fail either critically, at the box office, or both. However, movies that revolve around games or that incorporate game motifs have managed to succeed, examples of such including 2012’s “Wreck It Ralph” and, of course, 1995’s “Jumanji.” And the sequel, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is another addition to this niche genre as well as a fitting sequel to the original.

The film follows four high school students from different cliques: Spencer (the nerd), Fridge (the jock), Bethany (the princess), and Martha (the outcast). They end up in detention together, resigned to the school basement to de-staple old magazines, and there they find an old gaming console with the titular game and decide to play. The game then proceeds to suck them inside with the kids becoming the avatars they chose moments before. Now the race is on to complete the game and save Jumanji before they run out of lives.

“Welcome to the Jungle” has a good plot with some neat elements, good pacing and creative sequences. What really makes this movie stand up on its own is its story. As you can tell from the Breakfast Club-esque nicknames, our heroes are stock characters that everyone knows, but you learn more about them through their fantastical adventure. Each character’s “avatar” is practically everything the teens are not in their real lives, which leads to some great humor and some genuine character growth.

What this movie truly excels at is the world and atmosphere of Jumanji. There are numerous references and elements of video gaming incorporated into the plot and story. The plot progresses level by level as the teens delve further into the game. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses and even gets three lives to lose before being trapped in Jumanji forever, giving the events actual stakes. The villain, instantly forgettable as a compelling character, is basically there to be the final boss. They understand and utilize their premise for every joke and creative scene they can and impress with each one.

This is the type of movie that would not work without the perfect cast and, in my opinion, they could not have chosen anyone better for any of the main roles. The actors playing high school kids are do a good job setting up the characters, including a favorite of mine, Nat Wolff. The “avatars” as those kids were played phenomenally. Dwayne Johnson is not only hilarious but very endearing as the hunky Dr. Smolder Bravestone. Karen Gillan is delightfully awkward as the formidable Ruby Roundhouse and Kevin Hart is very funny as Mouse Finbar, but the Oscar clearly goes to Jack Black as Professor Shelly Oberon, who provides the funniest performance in the movie. There is also a performance from a secret character that I was surprised I enjoyed so much, so kudos to him.

As one might expect, there is a lot of CGI in this movie, but it looks solid and the sets that really are there look even better. The action scenes are well choreographed and fun to watch. The score is not that memorable but there are some decent song choices throughout.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is simply a fun, joy-filled thrill ride from start to finish. I do not expect there to be a sequel, but this makes me wonder just what they could do with “Zathura” if they chose to reboot it. I highly recommend this one for anyone just looking for a memorable escape from the dreary real world.