Against my better instincts, I saw JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE. I know, I know. I should have listened to the little voice in the back of my head that said, “You know this is going to be crap, right?” And I did know it was going to be crap, but my love of cinema got the better of me.
You see, kind reader, I am an eternal cinematic optimist. I want each film I see to be my next favorite. While that rarely happens, it does happen from time to time. I never know when I’ll see the next film that sweeps me off my feet, so why not today? And there have been plenty of times when I’ve doubted that a sequel or prequel will be any good, only to be proven sorely wrong. If I completely ignored sequels and franchises I would have missed out on OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL and THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR. Heck, even STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI for that matter.
It is with this foolish optimism that I embarked on watching JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE. The sequel to the 1995 board game-based film shares very little of its plot or references. This time our Jumanji is magically a video game and not a physical board game. This means that the characters get sucked into a TV to face their challenges and that each of the goofy teen actors is magically converted into their avatars in the game world.
Herein lies one of the best and worst parts of the film for me. The geeky kid who wears a rain coat “just in case” is turned into The Rock, muscles and beautiful teeth included. The all-star football player gets shrunk down to Kevin Hart. The nerdy girl is made into the bombshell ass kicking Karen Gillan. But worst of all, the insta-beauty blonde popular girl is turned into Jack Black. I will be the first to admit that Black gets the biggest laughs in the film thanks to his portrayal of the teenage cutie in the dadbod body, but I couldn’t help but think that the film was trying to get away with something here. Do they think we would not notice only one female actress in the core ensemble, as long as there was a second “female” character? The gender balance is skewed, but in utter denial of imbalance. Why not have women play women, or can they not figure out how to write a funny female character on her own?
Also, male writers and directors need to get over their own fascination with their penises. Sure, it would be interesting to take one for a test drive, but no woman is as interested in them as these men seem to be. This is one-note, and has been done before. Just drop it, please.
Each character seems to get what they need most in order to solve the game (as a team, of course) and to survive high school as soon as they inevitable return to the real world. The shy boy gets courage. The football star learns to think for himself and value knowledge. The pretty girl learns to value things other than her own reflection. You know the drill.
Beyond the issues I have with the characters, the plot itself is predictable. As a movie primarily aimed at children (though it is rated PG-13, so kids but not tiny youngsters), I am willing to let the simplicity slide. As each character is reintroduced with the game we learn their strengths and weaknesses, and those nearly all resurface as plot points. The game itself never feels very high stakes. I know that the odds of this film killing off kids are fairly low, so I know that they will always work as a team and come out ahead.
JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE also shares no artistic DNA with its predecessor. The 1995 film was dark and beautifully art directed. It was loyal to the illustrated book from which it was adapted and the lush, stylized sets made the fantasy of that world come alive. Here, we are just in a jungle. That’s it. Boring, old, seen-it-before jungle. There is no danger around each corner. There is not threat to everyday life. Just a bunch of greenery and the occasional wild animal.
I’m not surprised that JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE is as bad as it is, I am just disappointed.