"Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle"
Release Date: Dec. 20, 2017
Running Time: 119 minutes
If reviving dormant franchises is all just fun and games for Dwayne Johnson, then it was a given he would eventually assume a vital role in attempting to relaunch Jumanji 22 years after Robin Williams took on rampaging CGI animals. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle finds the action hero Hollywood considers "Franchise Viagra" a reluctant participant in the same magical jungle game that kept Williams' Alan Parrish a prisoner for more than two decades. Whereas the board game in Williams' Jumanji turned a small town into a suburban jungle, Johnson's sequel plays more like the unrelated spinoff Zathura because he and his fellow players are sucked into the world created by the game. In this case, Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan serve as avatars for four high-school students who find themselves unwillingly transported to a 1990s video-game version of Jumanji. Directed by Jake Kasdan with workmanlike precision, Welcome to the Jungle is essentially The Breakfast Club reimagined with guns, bombs and hungry hippos. The kids—played by Alex Wolff, Ser'Daruis Blain, Madison Iseman and Morgan Turner—are stuck in detention when they discover the game. Wolff, a nerd, transforms into Johnson's explorer. Blain, a jock, is cut down to size as Hart's zoologist. Iseman, the school hottie, gets the shock of her life when she finds herself stuck in the body of Jack Black's rotund cartologist. Turner, quietly rebellious but equally insecure, receives the power of dance fighting as Gillan's Lara Croft-ish tough-as-nails adventurer. The goal of Welcome of the Jungle isn't so much about surviving the game—which involves retrieving and returning a precious jewel to a towering statue of a jaguar without your three lives—but undertaking a journey of self-discovery. Welcome to the Jungle enthusiastically deals with obvious high-school archetypes only to deconstruct them in predictable fashion. Johnson heartily pokes fun at his macho-man image as the puny coward who is trapped inside the body of a WWE star, although this is something he’s done before in such family films as The Game Plan and Tooth Fairy. Hart, however, fails to toy with his trademark “all-bark, no-bite’ onscreen persona. He’s the Kevin Hart you know and love or hate from Ride Along. But he and his Central Intelligence cohort Johnson know how to work off each other, so the comic tension they generate helps to heighten the stakes in Welcome to the Jungle. Gillan builds upon Doctor Who and the Guardians of the Galaxy to showcase her smarts and physical prowess, but like her character, we’re wondering why she must wear such a skimpy in the jungle. The real star of Welcome of the Jungle, though, is Black. He throws himself into the role of a self-entitled high-school Queen Bee with gleeful abandon while slowly revealing her positive aspects that she rarely allows others to see. Nick Jonas acquits himself with dignity as the fifth player held hostage by the game. It is to director Jake Kasdan’s credit that he positions Welcome of the Jungle as a true ensemble effort; he doesn’t play favorites as he endeavors to give each of his four headliners gets plenty of time to shine individually. Welcome of the Jungle embraces teamwork in both regards to its cast and a narrative that requires each player to pool their game-given knowledge and skills. However, there are times when Welcome of the Jungle gets too caught up in the shifting group dynamic, resulting in a game with fewer action set-pieces than expected, a villain in Bobby Cannavale’s explorer who rarely poses much of a threat to Jumanji’s players, and an adventure that lasts about 20 minutes longer than it should. The game itself is rather basic in nature and lacks the intrigue that made the space-set Zathura such a blast. While Welcome of the Jungle is a natural continuation of its 1995 predecessor, it is a game that relies too heavily on the interaction of its players rather than the danger and challenges it should inherently pose to those who dare to enter Jumanji.
Aired: Dec. 21, 2017