Let me take you back to the magical decade of the 1990’s. Plenty of people were enjoying the Dallas Cowboys, Arsenio Hall, New Kids on the Block, The Philips CD-i, and Break Dancing. That is to say, people had horrid taste in entertainment back in the ’90s. And before anyone who remembers that decade says that not everything was awful, I suggest we take a note from a brilliant musician from the 1990’s, Mr. Stanley Kirk Burrell, better known by his stage name MC Hammer, and “STOP”
Yeah, so let’s simmer down and realize most entertainment from the ’90s was awful. Of course there are exceptions. Plenty of great music, TV Shows, and especially films. Think of it, we had films like (and I’m literally pulling this list out of my butt without looking anything up) Jurassic Park, Star Trek: First Contact, The Lion King, Toy Story, Independence Day, Batman: Returns, Fight Club, Casino, Friday, The Goodfellows, and Men in Black.
Well, one gem of the ’90s film Era was 1995’s Jumanji. Bringing to life the classic children’s book was left in the hands of the talented Joe Johnston, director of other excellent films like Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989), The Rocketeer (1991), The Pagemaster (1994), and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Not only with the pedigree of the source material, the director, they had Robin Williams, the darling funnyman we lost all too soon.
I’ll give you a moment to wipe the tears off your phone/tablet/keyboard so you can get to the meat of this review. At any rate, Jumanji had A LOT of Hollywood power behind it.
That brings us to the also much maligned 2017 film season that’s been mostly full of sequels, disappointments, a few great films, and reboots…or were they? Well, if you wrote off Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle as a reboot to the 1995 classic, then you were sorely mistaken. Not only was it not a reboot, but a beautiful “sequel” of sorts that pays homage to the original Jumanji but Robin Williams as well.
Just as with the original story, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle stars the titular demonic board game which is dug up yet again and placed in the hands of some unsuspecting “player”. Well, with kids these days (actually the film starts in 1996), board games don’t have the same appeal that they once did. The initial bearer of the board game discards it as quickly as young boys did with the Victoria’s Secret catalog before their mom came into their room (1990’s – this was before broadband and high internet speeds).
Being thwarted by board games being less of entertainment and more punishment by a that really annoying friend you have that is completely anal about the rules in “Monopoly”, Jumanji decides to transform itself into a video game console and cartridge. Not being deterred by this completely insane development, the first victim of the newly electronic Jumanji game is spirited away into the game like Alan Parrish (Robin Williams) was in the 1995 film.
Cut to 2016, we’re immediately thrown into a Sony PlayStation 4 commercial as a young man named Spencer plays over enthusiastically a generic fighting game on the console. Obviously he is completely nerdy because he’s good at video games and can quickly finish some sort of term paper. Oh, and I think he was Jewish and asthmatic with a side of allergies.
Soon after, we meet the other three teenage characters with other Millennial stereotypes Sony believes. They are as follows:
- Fridge – hulking football player who use to be friends with Spencer until he wasn’t cool anymore, still close enough to have his term paper’s done by him though
- Bethany – vain, social, and stuck-up pretty girl who works hard at taking selfies with her SONY cell phone (seriously, how many people own a Sony phone)
- Martha – conservative looking girl who refuses to engage in gym class because it doesn’t mesh with her “adult” worldview
With that, our cast is rounded out. And to spare all the drama, they get detention because of their various actions based on their personalities (Fridge for cheating with Spencer, Bethany for video chatting with a friend in class during a test, and Martha for insulting the gym teacher). It’s a Millennial Breakfast Club everyone!
Their duty is to clean out the old AV room but quickly find the dreaded Jumanji Video Game Console. For reasons unknown, it has found its way into the school like a Registered Sex Offender with their own invisibility cloak. And like any good horror story teaches you, creepy artifacts must immediately be fooled around with. Setting the console up on one of those iconic roll around TVs that were the saviors of every kid everywhere who just couldn’t handle math that day (or a really lazy substitute teachers for that matter). Each stereotype picks a character with a cool sounding name and as you’ve come to expect from the Jumanji franchise, they get sucked into the game (yay, now everyone is trapped!)
This is where the fun starts.
Thus far, Sony, and director Jake Kasdan (Bad Teacher, Sex Tape), Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has been a “paint by the numbers” film with nothing special. Everything changes when the generic Millennial Cardboard Cutouts become their avatars in the video game. I’ll talk about them very quickly, but without these “Avatars”, this movie would have failed beyond belief. All of the sudden, the story is kicked into overdrive without a single minute to catch your breath, the writing is spot on and sharp, plus, and I cannot say this enough, these characters and the actors that play them, are absolutely delightful! Now let’s take a look at the real treasure of this film: The Cast.
We talked about all the Hollywood power that the original Jumanji had, but as incredible as it was, the ensemble presented in this film, is one of the absolute best I’ve seen since The Avengers. I honestly cannot think of a better set than these four actors. I’ll list them off order of how amazing they were:
- Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Dr. Smolder Bravestone – if The Rock’s parent’s could go back in time and rename their son, this is exactly the name they should have chosen. By the way, this is Spencer’s avatar.
- Jack Black as Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon – the gag here is that Jack Black’s Middle-Age fat guy Professor is the avatar of the vain Bethany. All I have to say is that Jack Black should probably see a counselor and ensure he’s not actually a teenage girl trapped in a man’s body, he performs that well
- Kevin Hart as Franklin “Mouse” Finbar – Hart, who is the avatar of Fridge, who, as you’ll recall was a large jock in the real world plays the side-kick to The Rock’s Dr. Smolder Bravestone (and yes, I will always write out that whole name, it’s just that majestic)
- Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse – I’m not a big Karen Gillan fan, but she plays the avatar of normal girl Martha and you can either see Gillan’s range as an actress or secretly she was unfamiliar with being popular and pretty in high school because she nails this character
As you see, each of these actors get to play an absolutely amazing character and you can tell every single one of them seem to be having a blast. There are moments for every single actor to shine. The Rock gets the biggest piece of scenery to chew and does he ever. Not a single moment is wasted by Dr. Smolder Bravestone, he’s always showcasing his talent as an action star as well as the ability to act like a goofy dork.
There is not enough to be said about Jack Black. He’s a talented writer, actor, and musician. Well, you really should add “Possible Teenage Girl” living the life as Jack Black. From the voice to the sheer delight of feeling his own man-boobs and being comfortable with his cup size to what is likely the funniest moment in film I’ve seen the entire year! I am not kidding, for just a few minutes in this film, I’ve heard more laughter than from any comedy I’ve seen throughout all of 2017. Shows again how sharp the writing is as well as Black’s pure comedy genius.
Kevin Hart does what Kevin Hart does, makes jokes at the expense of his size, complains as loudly as possible, but also makes some of the absolute best jokes throughout the film. He plays second fiddle to Black, but he holds his own and is just as goofy as you’ve come to expect. Also, as Jumanji has transformed into a video game, they all different attributes. Hart is essentially an inventory manager for Dr. Smolder Bravestone, but in the “Weakness” column, he has “Cake”. Yes, you read that correctly, “Cake” is one of his MANY “Weaknesses”. Needless to say they make devastatingly hilarious use of later in the film.
I really wasn’t trying to leave Gillan’s character with less word count, but she is really only there to make jokes about why women wear skimpy clothes in video games and has a pretty excellent turn at trying to be “sexy”. Even that is upstaged by Jack Black trying to teach her how to be sexy and flirty. I will admit, her special ability of “Dance Fighting” is pretty neat to watch, has a Black Widow feel to it with an excellent insertion of Big Mountain’s cover of Peter Frampton’s “Baby, I Love Your Way”.
The Wrap Up
I cannot extol the virtues of this ensemble cast. Everyone pulls their weight and makes what could have been a boring reboot the most delightful surprise of 2017. With it coming the week of Christmas, good critical reception, and potentially good word of mouth (well, if you listen to me), Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle will go far. It does everything right as a “Spiritual” sequel to the beloved 1995 film. Do yourself a favor, between the upcoming drought of films in January and your repeated views of The Last Jedi, go see this film and be ready to have an excellent time.
The harsh little film critic had a few notes that he wants to air out:
- Sony, Sony, Sony – did you know this was a Sony Pictures film? If you didn’t, Sony is happy to remind you by flashing every single electronic’s brand name and you can guess which brand that is
- VIDEO GAMES! – before everyone gets sucked into the Jumanji video game, they show Spencer playing a fighting game like he is having a seizure. Why on earth is it so hard to depict people playing video games in film? I mean, they can’t even make a solid movie based off of a video game, so can they please just have someone using a controller like normal?
- Video Game Tropes – while they lack the ability to show a person playing a video game reasonably, they do an excellent job of showcasing several tropes of the action/adventure genre of games. They have NPCs with repetitive dialog, special attributes and powers, weaknesses (of which Dr. Smolder Bravestone has NONE), multiple lives, and of course plenty of blood (every time a character dies, no matter how, there is literally a spray of blood)
- Nick Jonas as Alex/Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough – really dropped the ball on this one as one of the Jonas Brothers is the initial player who gets sucked into the video game at first and lives for 20 years until the rest of the cast makes it inside. Not only is this an epic failure on Darkmovienight’s review, but the pilot character, who can’t actually fly very well, is part of one of the best action scenes and with Alex using his 1996 slang, his character is fun, but underdeveloped.
- Boss Battle – the featured antagonist in Jumanji seems to be a Mr. Van Pelt. In Welcome to the Jungle, he’s a gritty green eyed villain with a raven as a principal means of menace. In 1995’s Jumanji, he hunts Alan Parrish as a “Most Dangerous Game” Big Game Hunter by the terrific Jonathan Hyde
- Sequel? – While no one believed this Jumanji sequel or reboot (it’s not a reboot) was necessary, the talent of this ensemble cast just makes me crave more stories with these avatars (Zathura: Dr. Smolder Bravestone in Space???)