Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Review
"In the jungle, the boring jungle, everybody sleeps tonight"
Even if the title Jumanji
means absolutely nothing to you at all, it's hard not to get at least a little excited about an action-adventure flick that has Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan
and Jack Black in it. A standalone sequel to the 1995 film starring Robin Williams, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
doesn't set its sights high - it's aiming to be a lighthearted romp, a pleasant distraction before The Last Jedi
devours all of the box office. Does it succeed?
The premise is fairly straightforward - four teens (Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Ser'Darius Blain and Morgan Turner) end up in detention, find the Jumanji game, which has upgraded itself from a cursed board game to a cursed video game and get sucked into its world. In the game world, they become the characters they've selected (Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan respectively) and must beat the game to escape. If they lose, they die.
In classic switcheroo fashion, the body swaps come with dramatically significant irony - the scrawny, cowardly nerd Spencer (Wolff) becomes the musclebound hero (Johnson), the vapid, self-obsessed pretty girl (Iseman) turns into a middle-aged, overweight cartographer/archaeologist (Black), the big, dumb jock (Blain) is now a small, hapless sidekick (Hart) and the shy bookworm who doesn't like PE class gets to be a badass, sexy fighter (Gillan).
You can see where this is going, right? The four have an epic adventure, while also learning something about each other and themselves in the process. We laugh, we cheer, we're reasonably entertained even though we know exactly how it all goes down, roll credits.
Yet Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
finds a way to make a pretty simple idea needlessly convoluted and confused. The whole movie is ripe with character and plot inconsistencies and plagued by bad writing.
The bad guy (Bobby Cannavale) stole a glowing green jewel that gave him power over all the creatures of Jumanji and yet even though he doesn't have the jewel and is trying to get it back, he still has that power for some reason. At one point our four heroes are told to find 'the missing piece' which turns out to be another human stuck in the game, a 90s metalhead (Nick Jonas) but that makes no sense whatsoever.
The four joined a game that the other kid started in the 90s, so how can he be the missing piece to beat said game? The game is smart enough to rewrite its narrative on the fly but not that smart as to have non-player characters that can actually interact with human players outside of stock sentences?
Every player has strengths and weaknesses. Karen Gillan's character's only weakness is venom, but isn't venom just deadly in general? Shouldn't it kill all of them? Are the others immune to venom if it's not listed as a weakness? They certainly don't act like it.
Kevin Hart's character's weakness is cake - when he eats it, he explodes (yes, really). Yet Nick Jonas's weakness is mosquitoes and when one bites him, he just falls over dead. Not only is that inconsistency annoying, the idea that Nick Jonas only got bitten by one mosquito while in the jungle is all kinds of ridiculous.
Spencer, the nerdy character, is meant to be good at video games - this is established by showing him saying what moves he's doing out loud while playing Street Fighter
(this is something all gamers do) and losing said game. While he fights off random goons as the heroic Dr. Smolder Bravestone, he also describes his moves while doing them, which is meaningless since all of the fighting abilities came with the character he chose, just like Bethany is now really good at cartography or Fridge at zoology.
When the heroes find a hangar that's being guarded by a handful of guards, they decide that their best plan is for Bethany to teach the shy girl how to flirt with the guards and distract them, because she's the hottest of the bunch. This is a contender for the movie's dumbest moment by far. One, the guards are NPCs, so the players have no reason to believe that they're even capable of responding to flirting. Two, why don't they just attack the guards? Both Johnson and Gillan's character are established to be exceptionally skilled fighters and Gillan ends up beating all of them up anyway.
The list goes on and on. On their own, a lot of these amount to little more than nitpicks - but there's so many of them to go by that I spent nearly every second of the movie trying to work out either the exact nature of the game's rules or what lesson the characters are actually supposed to learn. The distractions, inconsistencies and stupid moments pile on and overwhelm any enjoyment one could get from Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Smolder uses a boomerang once and it's never brought up again. The ability for players to transfer lives to another player to is brought up once and never again. Stuff like that makes the movie really feel like they were making it up along the way.
The fact that the setting is a video game world is almost entirely window dressing. It's an excuse for characters to say "that's an NPC", "we need to get to the next level", "we have three lives" and other hot phrases straight from the Wikipedia page for "Video Games". It's meant to feel like a modern take on Jumanji, but if anything it feels dated and lazy.
Most of the characters outside of the main cast are NPCs that just repeat the same sentences over and over again and are thus incapable of any meaningful interactions. If the NPCs had their own lives within the game world, that could have not only given the plot higher stakes but doubled as a way to flesh out Bethany's arc of learning to care about people besides herself.
What's even more annoying is that the movie has glimmers of potential here and there. There's a really good scene where Kevin Hart intimidates Dwayne Johnson that's meant to convey that even though Spencer is now a towering giant of muscle, he still needs to learn to overcome his fears and stand up for himself. This is then completely undermined by Johnson smacking Hart around right after, not because he grew as a character (he overcomes his fears much later) but because the movie wanted to get a quick laugh out of the audience.
It's a solid cast of charismatic performers that are clearly having fun and trying to get the audience to have fun too - and sometimes it works. A few of the jokes really land and it's generally fun to see Dwayne Johnson acting cowardly or Jack Black acting like a vapid teenage girl.
The characters, like the movie itself, aren't insufferable, but they're hardly worth caring about. At the end of the day, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
feels like a giant waste of time, one that you'll completely forget about within days or maybe even hours of seeing.