You know, for a small website run on passion and gumption, we have a lot of articles about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. But hey, what’s one more?
There’s a special place in a movie lover’s heart for the moments when crass commercialism is spun unexpectedly into, if not gold, then at least solid cinematic entertainment, funnier and smarter and (occasionally) more resonant than it has any right to be. It’s the story of the 21 Jump Street remake and now it’s the story of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, the sequel no one was asking for.
The ingredients here are surprisingly good. The script is strong–amusing, empathetic to its various characters, and solidly if not remarkably plotted. The actors are charismatic and winning, and they go all-in on the ridiculousness of what they’re asked to do–which is mostly to channel awkward, insecure adolescence into adult bodies wildly at odds with the inner personalities. Jack Black in particular turns in a sensitive, funny, nuanced performance as the shallow popular girl discovering unexpected depths and eventually getting goofily excited by the strangeness of her “overweight middle-aged man” body: “Martha! Come look at my penis!” Peeing as a guy is easier “because you have, like, a handle.” But everyone is good. Dwayne Johnson, always a charming bonus, is adorable as a scared, geeky teenage boy in a suave, built exterior, shrieking at squirrels but having smoldering as a superpower. Karen Gillan’s extremely awkward marionette-style attempt to flirt, followed by her kicking the shit out of men to “Baby I Love Your Way” is phenomenal. Kevin Hart gets a little less to do, but his comedic timing is still excellent.
Also, if loving Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillan awkwardly mashing their faces together in the world’s most inept kiss is wrong, who wants to be right?
The movie also gets good fun out of its old school video-game setup. Characters wind up driving through cut-scenes and using their own life-reboots to their advantage. NPCs repeat their lines over and over again until given the correct cues. The “transportation shed” is full of obvious red herring vehicle choices, with a school bus alongside the helicopter; you have to break in, but of course the trusty weapons valet (or “backpack guy”) has bolt cutters right when you need them. There are characters named Dr. Smolder Bravestone and Ruby Roundhouse, Killer of Men.
A lot of recent family movies have been dumb, loud, and obnoxious. A lot of unnecessary sequels have been likewise. It’s nice to have something that’s slightly more ambitious and wildly more successful at realizing its ambitions.
And to have those ambitions include Jack Black playing a girl named Bethany.