Forgive me for the analogy I am about to make, as I get my medical expertise solely from having watched Grey’s Anatomy. But, making a movie sequel is like a heart transplant. You cannot tamper with the heart of the donor at all for it to be fully functional in the new body. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle attempts this risky heart transplant as it reboots and follows up the 1995 flick, Jumanji. Does it succeed in recreating the magic? Or does the heart stop beating in the new body? Here is what I think…
What is it about
In this Joe Johnston directed standalone sequel, a board game is no longer the preference of any teenager, so the Jumanji metamorphoses into a gaming console to lay the trap. Five unsuspecting kids – one in flashback and other four in the present day – are sucked into the world of Jumanji, literally, as they try to play it. They are ‘Welcomed to the Jungle’ – this time the threats and dangers do not magically appear in the real world, but the characters are sort of trespassing them inside Jumanji. The four teenagers, from the present, become the avatars they have picked before they hit start on the game. Thus, Spencer (Alex Wolff), Martha (Morgan Turner), “Fridge” (Ser’Darius Blain), and Bethany (Madison Iseman) become Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), Franklin “Moose” Finbar (Kevin Hart), and Professor “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black), respectively, in the mysterious world of Jumanji. They have to find a way to end the game and return to their homes but not without dealing with life-threatening creatures and enemies that lurk in the jungle. They all have three lives each, a set of skills and weaknesses – like a video game, you see.
The entertainment quotient of the film is sky-high. Let us say that the old heart was transplanted to a body more attractive than the previous one. You could go so wrong with the body-swap comedy but Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle walks the tightrope with impeccable balance. Jack Black trapped in the body of a trademark American Pumpkin-latte-sipping-teenager girl is hilarious. From discovering the wonder of how men pee to coping with the loss of a phone, the actor does justice to the character without becoming a caricature. Kevin Hart also aces his role of a high-school jock, who is now half the size he was in real life. Karen gives way to the most hilarious scene in the movie owing to her being just an average, awkward nerdy teenager pre-transformation trying to flirt. The comic punches come at all the right places and make you chuckle a lot.
The set-up for the new plot is lavish. The movie is shot extensively in Hawaii and Gyula Pados does a fabulous job of capturing the landscapes through his lens.
Karen Gillan’s action sequences are marvellous. Her ability to make the enemies bite the dust with her dance-fighting (whatever that was), all the while complaining about her Lara Croft-ish costume, will keep you on the edge of your seat. In fact, the movie works wonders as an action flick. Who would not want to see a chopper being chased by a horde of Rhinos? From the insane helicopter flip to mid-air relaying of a gemstone, the action stunts are breathtaking. A couple of references to the first Jumanji are spot on, thankfully.
The heart was transplanted to a new, hotter body, but seems like it was dropped a couple of times before that. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a comical and entertaining standalone flick, but falters pathetically as a sequel. To turn a kid-friendly adventure fantasy into a Hollywood action movie is a step gone wrong.
Dwayne Johnson is the sexiest, most charming man alive – hell yeah, but he is not impressive in the acting department. Usually, he makes up for the lack of it with his utter shirtless charm, but this time he doesn’t. His body swap from an awkward teenager to a bulking-Bravestone fails due to his limited acting chops or his unwillingness to keep aside his Dwayne Johnson-aura. The very first shot of him has him giving his iconic eyebrow raise, which I highly doubt is what an awkward teenager will adapt to his personality.
The biggest mistake committed by the movie is to not have any teenager or kid in the mix. Hear me out. The best part about Jurassic Park trilogy, Jumanji and other movies on the same lines, for me as a kid, was that there were kids my age running away from crisis. In JWTJ , while the soul of the characters is that of teenagers, the body-switch does the trick of creating an illusion for the viewers.
The world of Jumanji seemed too real. The liberty of being a mystical world should have been taken into consideration to create a jungle more fantastical. The tables should not have been turned in the first place. The creatures should have magically made their way into the real world like the original.
What to do
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is an entertaining film and is worth paying the price of the ticket. We all remember the 1995 Jumanji, right? Whenever it’s on TV, we don’t change the channel for a couple of minutes, at least, for our favourite scene to play out. Well, the followup won’t live up to that legacy and that’s about it. The movie works like a charm as an action-comedy but as a fantasy-adventure, not so much. The body is smokin’ hot here but the heart is not in the right place.
Reviewed by Rajat Tripathi
**** Very good