Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Review: Jumanji - Welcome To The Jungle

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle
Cert: 12A / 119 mins / Dir. Jake Kasdan / Trailer

Before I get stuck into Jake Kasdan's latest effort, I should point out that I actually haven't seen 1995's Jumanji. No agenda behind that, I just didn't catch it at the time and it hasn't crossed my path in the intervening years. My increasingly-usual manic schedule for December means I haven't had time to slot the film in for cramming.

So it was partly this 'not knowing exactly what to expect' which subdued my excitement for Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle. I say partly, it was also that the more I saw the trailer, the worse the prospect became. Although I enjoy Dwayne Johnson as a comic actor, his overall record is far from exemplary. And while I actually quite liked his recent double-act with Kevin Hart, the thought of reuniting the two for similar bouts of shrieking did not sit well with me. Elsewhere we have Jack Black, who other than a solid turn in Goosebumps is also on a downward trajectory in my eyes, and Karen Gillan - a great performer who appears to be being held back by an agent who accepts every undemanding job which lands on the desk.

I have already gone on record as saying I was not looking forward to this.
I am now on record to say that I am delighted to have been proved wrong.

So, when four disparate teenagers (Alex Wolff, Ser'Darius Blain, Morgan Turner and Madison Iseman) come across an old mid-90s console (complete with a cartridge of an unknown adventure-title) while cleaning a store-room in detention, they're magically zapped into the game where they inhabit the bodies and in-game skills attributes of the playable characters (Johnson, Hart, Gillan and Black). In order to win their freedom, the gang have to work as a team, learning the structure of the game as well as their own limitations and untapped potential. Plus it's set in the jungle and there's an artefact to recover, necessitating the actual adventure setpieces. So sort of The Breakfast Club meets Tron meets Indiana Jones.

And against all my expectations, it's great.

Don't get me wrong, you're not going to find the meaning of life, the cure for cancer or the basis of an enduring cinematic franchise in Welcome To The Jungle's 119 minutes. But in terms of a fantastically fun, funny family-friendly yet sassy adventure movie for the holiday season, this movie delivers on its own terms. That's all I ask.

Yet at the same time, the new iteration of Jumanji is by no means a perfect nor revolutionary movie, but it's at least aware of its flaws. And while that knowledge doesn't always forgive those flaws, you can be sure that the 1) linear nature of the ongoing story, 2) convenience of the game-to-film mechanics, 3) overtly sermonising themes and 4) ridiculousness of Karen Gillan's outfit are all issues which have been considered thoroughly by the writing team. The movie just then deemed them fit for use anyway. Welcome To The Jungle absolutely should not work, which perhaps ironically is its greatest strength*1.

The central cast have natural chemistry, and since theirs are essentially body-swap roles, they're each doing twice the work they would normally. As this is A Studio Comedy™, my worry was that they'd each be playing themselves (Mr. Black especially) and leaving behind the story's 'real-world' personas for the main drag of the movie, but Jake Kasdan's direction and a careful script don't allow this to happen*2.

But most importantly, I laughed loudly and consistently throughout Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle (as did the rest of the audience). On that front alone, this is already better than most comedies this year. And while the overriding message may be slightly trite, the film still has more dedication to its own characters than most comedies, too. It's just a shame that it'll reach nowhere near the audience it deserves because Sony Pictures' general-release window pits it against Star Wars*3...

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Well Jumanji obviously, but any lighthearted action-adventure like Indiana Jones, Romancing The Stone, Willow.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
In between watching The Last Jedi several times, sure.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
As a group-effort, it's certainly one that other writers, directors and producers will try to replicate.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Missi Pyle is in this, and she was in 2005's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory along with Garrick 'Biggs' Hagon and Sir Christopher 'Dooku' Lee.

And an interesting (…) duo of GFFA trivia for you: the first Jumanji was directed by Joe Johnston, the guy who basically designed Boba Fett. This second movie is directed by Jake Kasdan, son of Empire/Jedi/Force Awakens/Solo screenwriter, Lawrence Kasdan.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 And trust me, as much as I'm defending the film, Karen Gillan's hotpants/crop-top outfit here is not irony. It's just a thing they noticed could be problematic, referenced in the script, then carried on using it as if that absolves them of the exploitation. The same arguably goes for Jack Black's entire performance, although I'd be lying if I said I didn't find it funny all the same. [ BACK ]

*2 There are four screenwriters here, mind, which is never usually a sign of anything coherent. And although I haven't watched the original Jumanji, I can still see the glaring hat-tips in the new movie's script when it's being referenced. But generally speaking, the "standalone sequel" Welcome To The Jungle works well enough on its own terms to not have to rely on these moments. [ BACK ]

*3 It's not even as if this is a cunningly scheduled 'alternative' flick (cf. Sisters, In The Heart Of The Sea and a two hour melodrama about mops) it's basically playing to the same demographic. And given the opportunity, would you rather watch a shrieking Kevin Hart, or Star Wars? [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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