HomeMoviesJumanji: Welcome to the Jungle: A Safe, Solid Time at the Movies

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle: A Safe, Solid Time at the Movies

Nostalgia for the 1990s is all fun and games until something that is actually bad from that era is remembered as a classic. 1995’s Jumanji, for example, is a genuinely bad film – it’s tonally uneven, fueled by annoying characters, and wastes the typically reliable Robin Williams in a role he totally phones-in.

This film has, somehow, joined the ranks of Robin Williams’ classics, even though keeping it on the same shelf as Mrs. Doubtfire, The Birdcage, or Aladdin is a minor travesty. But, if nostalgia from the 1990s guarantees anything (other than a listicle on Buzzfeed), it’s a reboot in the late 2010s. And while it didn’t have too high a hurdle to jump, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has actually managed to surpass its predecessor.

This time around, the titular board game has transformed itself into a SEGA-like video game console that drags an unsuspecting group of detention-bound teenagers into the dangerous jungle world. Suddenly, the star football player has transformed into a tiny zoologist (Kevin Hart), the popular girl is trapped in the shlubby body of a male scientist (Jack Black), a shy wallflower is forced to embody a Lara Croft-esque avatar (Karen Gillan), and the school’s biggest nerd has morphed into The Rock. Together, they need to figure out how to escape the game, avoid a dangerous villain (Bobby Cannavale), and, of course, learn to respect one another.

In addition to being a reboot of a 90s property, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a welcome throwback to the big budget action/comedies that were relatively common twenty years ago but have since become scarce in the franchise-focused studio system. While there’s nothing here to write home about, Jumanji can hold its own as a comedy and as an action film. There are a number of fun set pieces here, with humorous one-liners perfectly woven through the special effect heavy moments.

Unfortunately, the stakes are never particularly well defined, and the film’s villain gives new meaning to the phrase “one-dimensional”, which is especially disappointing since Bobby Cannavale is a wonderful character actor. But no one here is confused about the sort of film they are making: this is a popcorn movie, and it’s perfectly serviceable as that.

Much of the film’s success also comes down to the cast, who all endearingly try their hardest to make the audience laugh. In particular, Kevin Hart has never been better, toning down his usual eccentricities to consistently nail his punch lines. Dwayne Johnson, meanwhile, exudes the movie star charisma that has made him one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, but still proves to be a gifted comedian, as the awkwardness of the teen nerd controlling his avatar pokes through the Rock’s bulging muscles. And while his material may be the most conventional of the bunch, Jack Black does a very nice job developing his “popular girl in a overweight man” persona, earning the laughs he will no doubt elicit from the audience.

Karen Gillan is given far less material to work with than her male co-stars, which is awfully disappointing, but it should be noted that she manages to make an impression anyway. It must be said, however: the film acknowledges that her character is absurdly dressed in an exploitative outfit, but that doesn’t negate the fact that she is objectified by the camera in virtually every scene. Do better, Sony Pictures.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle works on two levels: it’s entertaining enough for young audience members to love it, and fun enough to be considered a worthy follow-up to a film that time has tricked older audience members into remembering it affectionately. It is not, by any means, a great movie, and everyone involved seems to be aware of that. The actors even approach their dramatic scenes with the same level of irony that 90s kids approach with, well, literally everything. But, in terms of big screen spectacle, you will get your money’s worth. And, in the 2030s, the latest generation of nostalgic twenty-somethings will be able to look back on Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle with pride.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is currently in theaters.

Matt Taylor
Matt Taylor
Matt Taylor is the TV editor at The Pop Break, along with being one of the site's awards show experts. When he's not at the nearest movie theater, he can be found bingeing the latest Netflix series, listening to synth pop, or updating his Oscar predictions. A Rutgers grad, he also works in academic publishing. Follow him on Twitter @MattNotMatthew1.

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