Let me summarize the premise of this movie to you:
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is the story of four teenagers who get sucked into a video game and transformed into the avatars they chose sight unseen. The nerd becomes a fearless adventurer (The Rock) given to random moments of smoldering charisma. The jock turns into a slow-footed, pint-sized zoologist (Kevin Hart). The shy girl suddenly has to cope with being in the barely clothed body of a supremely confident martial arts expert who just happens to also have flowing red locks and killer abs (Karen Gillan). Lastly, the social media-obsessed popular girl is stuck playing as the middle-aged overweight guy (Jack Black) whose sole purpose is that he’s good at reading maps. Each of the avatars has strengths and weaknesses, and they all have three lives. Once they run out of lives, though, they might die in the game for good. To beat the game, they have to return a green jewel to a giant statue of a Jaguar and say “Jumanji” aloud
If I were to simply cut and paste the above paragraph and repeat it around 12 more times, perhaps only breaking to put in the occasional plug for a shitty Sony product, you’d have a rough idea of what it’s like to watch Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. The premise of the film is actually quite inventive, but that’s sometimes hard to see past the obvious desperation of the five (!) credited screenwriters and, more likely, the studio suits and producers to make sure even the most video game ignorant among us can keep up with the plot.
So, through a combination of repetitive on-screen dialogue and off-screen ADR Jumanji just keeps explaining itself to us, even long after we’ve stopped asking it to. A better title would be Jumanji: Welcome to Endless Exposition. Plus, the product placement is as blatant as it gets, but that can be ignored. The nonstop display of characters explaining the plot and premise to us, on the other hand, will have you longing for Rachel Bloom to come along to slap everyone around:
If you can somehow tolerate all of that, Jumanji is actually a perfectly not terrible movie. That’s not exactly a pull quote for the poster, but I grew up consuming a steady diet of perfectly not terrible movies, the kind that always seemed to come on HBO or were easily available on VHS through Columbia Movie House. If I was 12 and this Jumanji came on I’d watch the hell out of it. I mean, what’s not to love about The Rock pretending to be a sickly nerd stuck in an Adonis’ body? Or Karen Gillan being taught how to flirt by Jack Black and still totally sucking at it? Or Kevin Hart randomly blowing up after eating a piece of cake since that’s one of his weaknesses (for some reason)?
The plot is basically Breakfast Club (seemingly stereotypical teenagers end up in detention together) meets Tron (sucked into a video game) meets Happy Death Day (the characters have a limited number of times they can die before they get things right), which at least gives us the fun of seeing the characters comically die multiple times. Through their experience inside the game and inside the bodies of their avatars, the teens all learn how to be better, braver, more present young adults, which works fine enough.
Truthfully, though, you’re just there to see The Rock continue trying to pretend like he’s not The Rock, playing both to and against type much like he did in last year’s Central Intelligence. Karen Gillan and Jack Black manage to steal some scenes from him, but he’s the real star. I was completely won over by his frequent freakouts, like when he delivers a classic action hero line and then immediately follows it by admitting how deeply scared he actually is.
RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS
- An easter egg reference to the Robin Williams Jumanji establishes that these two films exist in the same universe. Other than that, though, they are completely unconnected and can be enjoyed independently of one another
- There are 5 freaking screenwriters attached to this movie and not a single one of them could be bothered to look up when exactly “Getting Jiggy With It” came out?
- Kevin Hart yells. A lot.
- There are plenty of genuinely good jokes about video game tropes that don’t make sense, like when they are dropped off in the jungle even though their guide could have clearly just driven them all the way to the statue. Still, the plot and action of the Jumanji video game they’re playing doesn’t resemble actual recognizable video games as much as it should.
- Jack Black playing a teenage girl learning how to use a penis to pee for the first time certainly passes the “Things I’d Never Seen Before in a Movie” test.
- A Jonas Brother pops up in this movie. React however you see fit.
- Sony spent $90m to make this, and that mid-budget range absolutely shows in the wholly unconvincing finale which sees The Rock frantically racing a motorcycle up the side of a clearly fake mountain. But the over-the-top fun makes up for it. Plus, the limited budget means there is less action and more time for these characters to simply walk around and talk.