Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
by Toby Woollaston
The body-swap gag has graced the silver screen many times over the years. The Hot Chick, The Change-Up, Freaky Friday, 13 going on 30—the list goes on and what is common to most are their tendency to be b-grade comedies. Here, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle attempts a slightly different angle as it blends the body-swap trope with the 1996 Jumanji original.
Jumanji tells the tale of four high-school students and one fateful afternoon on school detention. The four students occupy various extremes in their school’s social pecking order; the football jock, the “selfie” valley girl, the nerd, and the loner. The premise is ripe for some Breakfast Club styled soul searching and frat-boy high-jinx. Although that’s as far as Jumanji has in common with any John Hughes film, as here the four become entwined by the fickle finger of fate and a magical video game. Unwillingly sucked into game’s world, they come to terms with each occupying a fictional avatar quite different to their real self. They must also work together to save Jumanji from the evil villain, Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale). Plot, for the lack of a better word, is not this film’s strength as it navigates a very linear narrative in search of the next comedic moment … of which there are, thankfully, enough giggles to maintain a mild semblance of interest.
Kevin Hart offers his usual “go to” brand of loud and brash humour which has become a tired cliche since the days of Eddie Murphy. Likewise, Jack Black and Dwayne Johnson operate well within their comfort zone and offer little more than their norm. The big surprise being Karen Gillen (Guardians of the Galaxy), who steals the show. Externally she’s a kick-ass Lara Croft styled martial arts vixen. Internally, she’s a painfully shy loner who has to come to terms with what’s required of her—hilarious scenes involving Jack Black teaching her how to flirt are the film’s high point.
Putting the humour aside, Jumanji briefly touches on issues of adolescent identity, however, director Jake Kasdan (Bad Teacher) seems uninterested in exploring the topic with any depth. Alas, Jumanji does feel a little lightweight and while my expectations for this film were fairly low, it somehow still managed to mildly disappoint. If all you’re after is average adventure thinly draped over a collection of chuckles, then Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle will be a perfectly serviceable holiday block-bluster … but beyond that, it will fall out of your brain soon after you leave the theatre.
You can see my published reviews here.