Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a follow-up film to the 1995 classic, Jumanji. Instead of attempting to remake the film, or try to capture its 90’s era nostalgia, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle adapts the main themes of Jumanji into a more modern aesthetic. The titular board game has been transformed into an old-school video game system, looking more Atari than Nintendo. When four teenage students wind up in detention together and accidentally stumble upon the console, they’re sucked into the deep jungle of Jumanji, a dangerous and exciting world full of adventure.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle starts off mostly cliché, with four very different teenagers spending an afternoon together in detention. Although it’s a setup we’ve seen several times before, most recently in the Power Rangers reboot, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle manages to make its beginning feel fresh and new. We’re introduced to the characters pretty quickly, and thanks to some great acting from a young cast, become attached just as fast. There’s the geeky and socially awkward Spencer (Alex Wolff), who was once friends with the now towering and intimidating football player, Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain). Two strong female parts fill out the rest of the group, consisting of Bethany (Madison Iseman) and Martha (Morgan Turner). Bethany is essentially the worst part of every tech-savvy teenager compiled into one human being; snotty, constantly on her phone, and begging for attention every step of the way. Martha is the flip side of that, a sharply intelligent young woman who struggles to express herself. The beginning of the film gives us a good amount of time to get used to these character tropes, which is important, considering that the majority of the film does not contain these younger actors.
Before they’re sucked into the video game of Jumanji, each teen picks a character from a character select screen. As they fall from the sky, spawning into the world of Jumanji, the characters that pull themselves up from the fall are not the characters we have known. The entire cast has been replaced with actors that better represent their video game characters. A lot of the heart and charm of the film comes with the characters accepting their new roles in the game, and how it affects them physically. Spencer basks in the power of Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johson), the leader of his team. Fridge gets cut down to size and ends up as the sidekick character Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart). Martha finds herself as the hyper-sexualized femme fatale Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), and the most hilarious of all, Bethany finds herself trapped in the portly body of Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black).
From here on, the characters are faced with varying challenges, all contained within the video game system of Jumanji. The film does a great job adapting common video game tropes to the story, with characters having over-the-top strengths and weaknesses. For example, Ruby Roundhouse has an exceptional amount of skill in “dance fighting”, while Moose Finbar’s biggest weakness is cake. Although the film can be quite violent at times, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle constantly presents itself in a fun and carefree way, producing a charm that was hard to deny. Alongside this ever-present charm are a great collection of heart-pounding action scenes, heartfelt character moments, and some actual character stakes. While Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle‘s plot could be seen as slightly shallow, it goes to some surprisingly effective places with its characters and world building. The end product is a film that is both exciting and thought-provoking, all while maintaining its fun and at times uproarious comedic tone.
Although heavy on the use of CGI, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle also paints a visually impressive world for us to get lost in. From dense jungles to busy markets, vehicle chases and shootouts, the movie peppers in enough variety in location and events that it never feels slow or boring. Not every challenge is as exciting as the next, but for the most part, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is consistently entertaining. The score is also decently well done, bringing back key sound effects and musical themes from the original film. Besides these callbacks, I struggle to remember any standout moments in terms of music. The score and track selection are serviceable, but you won’t find a Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack here; it works but isn’t very memorable.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was my biggest surprise of 2017. I went into the film expecting it to be terrible, and I feel like many other people did the same. Instead of a trashy cash-in on a beloved film, we got the exact opposite. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle sidesteps all the expected follies and produces an entertaining and engaging film that stands on its own merits. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the original film, but I dare say that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle does many things better than the original did. We will always love the classic Jumanji and the excellent performance from late comedic genius Robin Williams, but Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle shows us that even our childhood favorite films can receive earnest and quality follow-ups in the modern age. With an excellent cast of Hollywood actors and relatively unheard of young actors, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle gives us great characters, exciting action, heartfelt growth in both characters and conflict, and a surprising amount of depth. Sure, the villain is a bit forgettable, and some of the video game comedy may fall flat for those who don’t play video games, but everything else rang true for me. Not only is Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle one of the most surprising films of 2017, but it’s also probably one of my favorites of the year.
Movie Rating: 4 stars.
Movie Rating Guide
1 Star = Unwatchable
2 Stars = Cannot Recommend
3 Stars = Great for the Fans
4 Stars = A Solid Movie
5 Stars = Must Own (DVD/Stream Download)
I'm a life long gamer and an overall media junkie. In addition to writing great articles like this, I host a gaming/comedy podcast called "Super Gamecast 64" available on iTunes and Stitcher. I also watch an unhealthy amount of movies, and try to spread as much love into the world as I can. Hope you enjoyed the content!