Review by Lauryn Angel
I approached Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle with low expectations. This had little to do with my love of the 1995 film with Robin Williams – I’ve never seen it. Instead, my trepidation was based on the idea of watching Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan pretend to be teenagers for two hours. As it turns out, this was more entertaining than it really had any right to be.
The plot is pretty simple: four teenagers who would never be friends are given detention together, ala The Breakfast Club. Spencer (Alex Wolff) and Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) used to be friends in junior high, but drifted apart when Fridge became more interested in football than in being a nerd. Bethany (Madison Iseman) is the stereotypical high school princess, obsessed with Instagramming her every waking moment and permanently attached to her phone. Rounding out the group is Martha (Morgan Turner), a shy girl who lashes out at others as a defense mechanism to keep people away. While completing their punishment, the group finds an old video game console with the Jumanji game helpfully installed, and they decide to play. As seen in the trailer, the teens get sucked into the game and embody the characters they chose from the game menu. Nerdy Spencer becomes Smolder Bravestone (Johnson), the charismatic leader whose skills include “smoldering.” Ladies’ man Fridge becomes Moose Finbar (Hart), Bravestone’s weapons valet and sidekick. Bethany chooses her avatar based on the descriptive adjective “curvy” and becomes Dr. Shelly Oberon (Black), and Martha gets Ruby Roundhouse (Gillan) by default. The characters are so unlike the teenagers’ real selves that it’s clear from the beginning that each of them will learn a lesson and probably become better people, but more pressingly, they have to navigate the game and defeat the villain (played by Bobby Cannavale).
The film is directed by Jake Kasdan (whose previous projects include Orange County and Bad Teacher) with a screenplay by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, and Jeff Pinkner. McKenna and Sommers both have writing credits for The LEGO Batman Movie, which gives you an idea of the kind of humor the movie entails. It’s silly fun with a not-so-deeper message and enough plot twists to maintain viewer interest. The real charm of the film, however, is in the performances. I particularly liked the performances of Karen Gillan as Martha/Ruby and Jack Black as Bethany/Professor Oberon. I would never have guessed that Jack Black pretending to be a teenage girl for almost two hours would be anything but annoying, but I was pleasantly surprised.
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